What kind of shame do our kids experience that prevent community from happening in our classrooms?
(1) Testing shame is a big one. High stake testing starts in elementary school, which is outrageous, and it is this testing that by high school is so out of control that it represents perhaps the biggest impediment to building community in our classrooms.
(2) Peer shame. Do I need to go into that one? ll I need to say is “Instagram” or any other social media word and it’s clear. If we’re teachers, we get it. Alisa said here recently: “The shame is coming from all fronts – the constant Instagram posting and commentary can’t be helping these kids… some seem afraid to do anything independent or different for fear of the online response.”
(3) Smart kids’ shame. Within the first ten minutes of the first class of the year, most teachers have begun to send out messages about who their favorites are. Each year classes are instantly ranked and defined by the few favored kids and the teacher working together in subtle ways to build their own exclusionary community in the classroom. No community is then possible, and therefore no successful CI classroom is possible when the few are favored over the many in such a way.
(4) Parent shame. This is where kids, via testing shame, are made by their parents to think that their ability to memorize and parrot information back to the teacher is the sole determinant of their self-worth and value as a human being in the classroom. This kind of shame is one of the biggest factors at the root of the many classroom management struggles that we all experience each year in our classrooms.
We could go on listing the various kinds of shame that many if not most middle and most high school kids experience on a daily basis in our language classrooms. A good way to sum up this enemy in our language classrooms, is found in this statement from Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg:
“Based on my (mom) experience, it seems that teenagers are so steeped in judgement that they read every teacher glance and comment as a judgement. Just walking them back from that using the Invisibles is a huge undertaking. Lots of fear and shame, and fear of shame.”
Let’s pay particular close attention to this part of what Alisa said:
“…just walking them back from [shame] is a huge undertaking…”.
This is a sobering statement. It implies that in our change to the new pedagogy we not only need to figure out how to teach using comprehensible input, now we have to figure out how to build community by building confidence in kids, many of whom have had their sense of self shattered by the system in which they find themselves for half of their tired days.
Then if they go home to an emotionally empty house (most parents so exhausted just trying to get by) for the other half of their days, what are we to expect from them? A happy and smiling face, ready to learn in our comprehensible input classes?
Some (I think most) teachers are working from the assumption that high school students are not riddled to their cores by shame, and hence fail at being able to manage their own classrooms, all the while wondering why. It’s because their rules don’t really work when shame is there. How can a kid “sit up and participate” when they are full of the kinds of shame listed above?
(This is why I am in the process of developing a new approach to classroom management that goes beyond the Classroom Rules I have developed and are widely shared. It will be called A Natural Approach to Classroom Management – ANATCAM. I’ll begin to share that here in pieces in a few months or later in the spring. In my view it basically kicks ass.)
Clearly, the case being made here is that shame plays a major role in preventing real communities from forming in our classrooms. What to do about it?
In my view, the best way to neutralize the effects of shame in our classrooms is to offer a superior, feel-good and strongly inclusive community building curriculum (see definition of curriculum offered above). It’s all we can do, but we have to do it in a conscious way, because our comprehensible input instruction can’t do the trick all by itself. We have to consciously focus on activities that build inclusion and self-esteem in kids, and build that into our curriculum.
The One Word Image/Invisibles curriculum literally paints the shame out of our classrooms with positive strategies that succeed almost without effort, because the starting points for this new curriculum are not (targeted) word lists but (non-targeted) images that instantly grab everyone’s interest.
I have seen no better curriculum out there than the Invisibles and can’t wait to discuss it later this year here for those who haven’t read A Natural Approach to Stories (ANATS).
So let’s wrap up this post with one statement: We must acknowledge that (a) many of our students are experiencing toxic shame every day, but that (b) they are hiding it, and so (c) we must use gentle hands to invite those kids into the fun, with the right hand delivering strong and compelling comprehensible input via images and the left hand delivering real community to the classroom via the fun that the images generate.
We must rub away, via happiness and love (think of Saint-Exupéry’s definition*), our students’ fragile and unformed personas. It’s the Mr. Rogers approach. Most teachers who are in teaching for the right reasons do that everyday anyway, of course, but we can’t just give beyond our capacity without being armed with proper support (OWI and the Invisibles or any other program that employs BOTH CI and self-esteem building in class).
It could be that in our language classrooms some of our students will feel really safe and included for the first time ever in in their young lives! If that is so, then we can truly say that we have chosen the right profession, and that all the efforts we have made to deliver strong comprehensible input in a feeling of real community in our language classrooms will have been well worth it!
*…aimer, ce n’est pas se regarder l’un l’autre, c’est regarder dans la même direction…/Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction….