Beginning The Year

We created a “beginning the year” category here a few months ago. Here are a few quick additions to that list, which I will time stamp as well for August.
First, there is no doubt that TPR is in for a renaissance in my CI classroom. A lot of us seem to have been thinking along these lines in the past five months, judging from that thread here about three weeks ago. I will push the TPR/gesturing because at the end of last year my students clearly missed the early year five words a day – which I kind of let go after I could see that they had a big strong active vocabulary after the first three months or so.
One detail I will continue to do to start each class next year is not simply laser point to the five new words on the wall for translation/gesturing/fun (all of this is described on the resources/workshops link of this site), but often to move the kids’ eyes physically away from the list at the beginning of the class and ask them, once they have been taught and gestured/TPR’d, to identify only their sound when I say it, without looking at the list.
The other detail I wanted to add about starting the year is to vigorously encourage my students to take full responsibility for providing cute answers. In the past, I have always kept some of the responsibility for personalized cute answers, trying to think of cute stuff from the questionnaires and the CI on top of everything else involved in getting CI off the ground.
But now, for this coming year, I am thinking that this is fully the job of the kids and if they don’t clearly know that, then they won’t do it, so I have to really change from previous years and actually demand their cute answers as per my rule #5 (see updated rules poster on resources/posters link on this site).
It is worth adding here, of course that, most of the time, a lack of cute answers is due directly to the fact that we simply go too fast, and they don’t understand, so we must always bring up SLOW in these discussions. Without SLOW, we have nothing.
But I feel intuitively now that I must relinquish that control of the cuteness factor and give it fully to, place it fully on the shoulders, of each and every kid in the room, not just a few of the them, the superstars. No small group of kids should ever take over a class, no matter what method is being used.
How do we do that? We must go so slowly that all the kids feel moved to add suggestions. Also, we must learn to wait them out. This is skill #22 in my book, which to me is supremely important in getting the CI to flow properly with total class participation. Waiting them out, staying in the moment, is an art form.
Occasionally, English suggestions are offered into the CI. That’s fine. At one point I thought that no English suggestions should be allowed, then I favored allowing them to suggest two words in English in recent years, but now I just take what I get in both languages, but strongly encouraging suggestions in the TL all the while, and not making a big deal out of it if I hear an occasional suggestion in English, because some of them can be so funny. It is the flow of CI that counts, and as long as that is there, the little bit of English that may occur in their suggestions as well as in Point and Pause is negligible but somehow keeps the class moving along just fine.
Robert recently mentioned that some classes have that kind of energy – the energy to maybe create a Realm and be cute often no matter what – and some don’t, but my point here is that it is my active responsibility to make space, to find room for, to demand, really, cute answers not just from four of the kids, but from all of them, in all of my classes. Ambitious? Perhaps, but I’m going to try it.
So those are two things to add to what I want to do next year. Fine tuning, one might say.



2 thoughts on “Beginning The Year”

  1. Ben , you are correct. The responsibility to create the atmosphere of play and giving the entire responsibility of the cute answer to the student is a key factor. In the middle of the year, when energy begins to sag and the kids are beaten down by work in other classes and I start to supply a cute answer because they are tired, disinterested, etc, the story becomes more mine than theirs. Somehow, at this cool advanced age of 14 or so, they have really lost the idea of play and school has become oh so serious. Perhaps direct instruction about playing and story ideas should be a part of the participation assessment. You said something about upping the ante on the participation part of their grade. Maybe we can all spend a moment in Los Alamitos discussing the beginning of the year. Everybody plays, whoo hoo!!

  2. “…perhaps direct instruction about playing and story ideas should be a part of the participation assessment…”.
    It’s a new idea but needs to be said. Yes, we can go over how we grade and figure out a way to bring this in to the assessment piece.
    I know one thing – when I was younger I would grade way too much. I know now that I don’t have to do that. People care a lot less than we think about how we grade. I think that the overgrading monkey has been on too many teachers’ backs for too long and is really a vestige from the last century. Well intentioned teachers think that they are accountable to come up with good instruments and then they spend over half their time doing that and it drains them from their real work of teaching. It’s a received idea – one that is very illusion based. People don’t care about the assessment process that we use – they could care less. Parents only want their little Fauntleroys to receive easy grades for little work. Young teachers make administrators into judges of the quality of their assessment. That is like allowing a high school thespian write a critique of the work of the work of a professional stage actor. They are not qualified to do so. If administrators see some grades in a column in the book, they are happy. Some teachers get into thinking that lots and lots of grades are indicative of good work. Not true again. The kids are not into the work, generally. I used to oppose that idea vigorously, and grade as if the kids were really into learning what I was teaching them. But that only leads to burnout because too many kids don’t really want to be there and have too many electronic and social and athletic interests to do much more than come to our class – I would say that that is true of at least 70% of them. Then why should I go nuts to create and maintain a complex grading thing? It’s not a grad course. Why bust our humps coming up with all this great assessment stuff? In fact, if we are smart, we will grade extremely simply, reflecting the simpletons who populate our classrooms. It’s smart to do that, and the participation grade and the suggestions aspect of that, however we work that out later this month, can make our lives much simpler. I owe you a meal at Denny’s, by the way.
    Just one more thing on this minor rant – when they start paying me what I’m worth while providing me with balanced amounts of kids in my room (25 or so), then I will consider going back to the way I used to grade, with strong assessment instruments that are really well designed. But, until that happens, I’m good to do it the way it has evolved for me, actually, this past year. Life is so much simpler that way.

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