Afterword to Stepping Stones to Stories

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16 thoughts on “Afterword to Stepping Stones to Stories”

  1. Thank you so much for constantly reminding us of what at our true job is…to make kids believe in themselves and want to be in our classrooms. The teaching of the language really is secondary, especially given the daily lives of many of our students. When I hear their stories I am often amazed that they can concentrate at all! I always love your inspiring words, Ben.

  2. Miss Senorita

    Thanks for the reminder. Feels like since I started to think of teaching this way, teaching has become so much more to me (and hopefully kids) — every day in the classroom is a revolution and an expression of love. Even the days that don’t feel like it. 🙂

  3. Yes and I was talking with John Piazza about this and we are thinking of formally addressing the idea this year on the blog that on those days you mentioned when we don’t feel like teaching we consciously work on our mental health and try valiantly to convey a sense of joy to our students anyway no matter how crazy that bad day is. In your comment you imply that this is possible.

    This work is not like teaching grammar, and I remember those days well, when I could be depressed or happy and no one would even notice because what we were doing in class was so blah anyway. It was like I was a robot with no feelings because of the way I was teaching.

    As you imply, what we are doing has a different tone professionally. The good days take care of themselves, but it takes real courage to smile and pump humor and good will into a story when one is down emotionally. Many teachers don’t do it, with disastrous results for millions of children, who learn that fear must play a part in their learning.

    John and I wonder if some teachers choose teaching as a profession because it gives them a way to not feel, because they know that in this profession they will be busy all the time? It is not an unreasonable question.

    Being consumed with finding more and more things to do like that Merton quote on this site talks about (see categories – Merton), is kind of what drug addicts do. All they want to do is numb out. Work addiction. Plus, teachers who are addicted to work can then go to the teachers lounge and complain. And they can convince themselves that their kids are at fault for not working hard enough when their teaching is just shitty. This is not a healthy way to live.

    So John and I are exploring the idea that the same relaxed and hopeful feeling we have now in the summer can just keep on rolling through the academic year. That we don’t have to get all “geared up” for another year but that, precisely because comprehension based teaching can indeed be very relaxing, and assessment can be almost effortless, we might be able to convey a greater sense of (dare I say it?) joy to our kids.

    I suggest that being happy in an insane environment be our Focus of the Year in 2014-2015. We don’t have to let our buildings slowly destroy our mental health over the course of the year, which, I can only speak for myself, was a kind of slow downward spiral until June each year. We can start and end our years with the same level of enthusiasm if we but try.

    I’m just throwing it out there as a possible theme for us for next year here on the blog so thanks for the reminder.

    1. Hi Ben,

      Reading what you wrote reminded me of my theme to last year’s teaching: working from rest. Not falling into the general mood of stress, stress, stress, and cramming content, fussing over results, and so on. Working out of rest, calmness, and peace. One can be very active at times but still inwardly rested.

      So anyway, what came to me while reading your comments was a slight modification, but I think it’s the one for me: added to my working from rest stance, working without fear. Not falling into the fears of being incompetent, or being unliked, or failing to fulfill someone’s expectations, that kind of thing.

      And we have found a house to rent! The lease was signed yesterday. WHEW. If anyone else is thinking of moving to the Denver area, better hurry — whether renting of buying, seems there aren’t many empty homes or apartments left!! We feel blessed to have a place that suits us well, but it wasn’t easy to find.

    2. Miss Senorita

      I agree with a lot of what you said. I would add that those days when I manage to fight through my bad mood and let the kids and our love and the input and the PQA take us collectively to a happy place are the ones that I genuinely turn my mood around. Allowing yourself to ride the wave of good will (which can exist in a classroom where everyone feels heard and acknowleged like one of our rooms) is almost a self fulfilling prophecy.

      Related to your points on that August – June spiral – I read an article about how lots of teachers get stressed because they are in a constant triage and struggle to prioritize things in the classroom and let go of the things that are not top priority. I propose that since we as a group have a stronger sense of priority most of the time (input reigns, reps reign, personalization reigns supreme etc.), we CAN build a better mindset than some around triage and not burning out because we are strong in our conviction of what will most help kids.

      1. … we as a group have a stronger sense of priority most of the time (input reigns, reps reign, personalization reigns supreme etc.), we CAN build a better mindset than some around triage and not burning out because we are strong in our conviction of what will most help kids….

        This is a very important and very subtle point. The triage image is spot on. It’s exactly what happens. Thank you Heike for this point. And I want to say again that mental balance is my vote for our 2014-2015 year’s focus. I feel like there is another layer to this work that lies below the skills and the activities, and I want to get down there and look around.

        1. One of my proposals for the NH conference is exactly about this topic of stress. I really hope it gets accepted. I tried to word it in a way that is accessible: “Stressbusters in the CI Classroom.” I hope to offer something similar in Maine too. This is an area where CI teachers lead the charge on modeling how to literally bust through the BS and get to what is real. Just in the last week several articles have popped up about the issue of teacher stress and impossible overload of duties, data, results, etc. We are uniquely poised to bring some sanity and authentic learning into our classrooms and by extension into our lives and our students’ lives.

          Like everyone has said in the previous posts on this thread it really is as simple as shifting our focus. If we operate from an assumption that we are stressed, that is what we’ll feel and that is what will infuse our work. ON the other hand, like Diane said “working from rest stance, working without fear” changes the energy completely.

          I wish I were going to see all of you in Denver this week. I’m feeling more than a bit regretful for the way I have set up my summer. And of course there is a lesson in that so I will pay attention to what it is as I move forward. My sense is that these 2 conferences will be particularly powerful and really amp up what we are doing!

          1. Isn’t it often said that people who might want to teach with CI find the difficulty of the internal changes necessary a major reason in continuing to use less effective teaching methods? Sometimes the internal change means developing strength to stand in the midst of attack from colleagues, misguided students and parents, but also just the internal dynamics of relating to students in a qualitatively different way?

            I was talking with several Chinese teachers at a conference last week and this was something that they partly already realized about CI teaching. The planning/prep is lighter, but the personal skills demanded are greater. I thought that was insightful.

            (That conference I attended to present CI and TPRS teaching for other Chinese teachers… it went very well, I thought. I was also happily surprised by how many both Chinese nationals and Americans there had heard about and wanted to be able to use TPRS. Some of them already got the distinction between learning and acquisition, and the unconscious factor in acquisition. I was also told TPRS is now very hot in language instruction circles IN CHINA – now that is something I didn’t know. Blaine Ray visited China and trained people some time ago and it’s become a serious interest. Wrapping their minds around doing language that way is an on-going process as we know.

          2. Internal changes in teaching, and the idea that CI teaching requires more personal skills with students, both are interesting ideas.

            As I’m in the middle of teaching a handful of students for extended time in a summer program, I’ve gained a better awareness of how the unconscious process of language acquisition works. Students, well, especially young people, don’t realize it’s happening and they don’t really care. What they care about is the topic being discussed. So, it feels like nothing is happening… like school isn’t happening or learning isn’t happening. And there really isn’t anything for them to show at the end of the day because they are just beginning to learn the language.

            I imagine that this is a difficult adjustment to make for teachers switching to CI; that there isn’t much for students to show in regards to what they’ve acquired. You know, we constantly talk about things like “performance indicators,” “assessment outcomes,” etc. in schools during PD days and in teacher evaluation discussions. So it’s not surprising that admin and teachers are confused about this CI leads to acquisition stuff.

            There may not be much for our students to show at the end of our CI teaching days, but I sure as hell can tell you who in the class is acquiring the language based on their learning behaviors and responses.

  4. Diane, you are so right! Working without fear. I work in a department where there is veiled hostility aimed at my teaching method. It stems from those fragile egos which fail to recognize that except for the few, most of the students in front of them are languishing in class. I am the different one and it has taken me a long time to get over the fear that I would be “outed” as a charlatan snake oil salesman. It still lingers but not like in the beginning.

    1. Chill, I love the “veiled hostility” comment. The head of my department takes off her veil when she’s talking to anyone but me and is openly derogatory about TPRS. When I’m present, it’s barely veiled.

      Ben, I think of how Susie taught me to deal with my recalcitrant children on the bad days, and hope I can remember. First of all, I have to remember how shocked and delighted I was in the beginning by how fast and happily children learned with CI. I have to continue expressing that delight. Every bunch is quicker than they have any right to be. Second, I have to remember to praise kids for whatever they’re doing well, especially in a class where I feel like nagging. Right up there with those is making the first two weeks about setting up the environment. Rules, expectations, and routines are critically important. If I’m going to have a fast-write day (mostly for a breather for me), regular quizzes or short story-retells, regular “tell it to your parents,” and other systems that I can live with, I need to establish them right away. Last year I got the seating set-up right away, and kids could switch from facing one way to facing the other, or move into my kind of small groups, in under thirty seconds. That took practice, but it was worth it because a moving transition was also a brain break.

      Other areas to remember: planning some teacher down-time in every class is as big as having a good lesson. So is having some time for kids’ brains to process what they’ve just done. Listening to a song and filling in cloze exercise can be an easy way to get down time.

      We’re under attack as a profession and for our methodology (by the old guard), so it’s a great idea to make sure that we collect and use ways to support ourselves and one another.

  5. Sabrina Sebban_Janczak

    Hi Ben and all from Agen where we’re having a great conference!

    Too busy and dead to write a report from the field but we will as soon as we have some time.

    Ben, I’ll be back to Denver on Sunday late afternoon.
    I can drive people around of course, so yes I can drive Erik Olsen.

    Looking forward to seeing everyone next week!


    1. Hi Sabrina,
      Glad to hear you are enjoying Agen. I would love to make it to A TPRS conference. The U.S. Is a bit far for me (I live in Ireland) Do you know if there is a conference every year in France or if the organisers in Agen are planning one next year?
      Thanks et Bon courage!

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