A repost. I think this is an important read, though lengthy, to get teachers clear about what they are going to do this year in terms of classroom management. Or not do. It is a kind of pep talk on classroom management. If we don’t internalize and apply in the first two weeks of the year the points made below we might as well give up before the year starts – the kids will win. I’m referring to the importance of using Rule #2 of the Classroom Rules poster like a friendly hammer in the first two weeks as explained in A Natural Approach to Stories and A Natural Approach to the Year.
There is a a system of popular psychology called Transactional Analysis (TA). It is based on the idea that one’s behavior and social relationships reflect an interchange between parental (critical and nurturing), adult (rational), and childlike (intuitive and dependent) aspects of one’s personality. All people, even children, have these three aspects of personality within them.
Administrators generally come from the parent aspect of their personality, judging and criticizing. It is such a bad model because it makes other people in schools, kids and teachers, feel somehow “not good enough”. And yet the admins (and parents) like those attacking Tina right now are the ones who are wrong, using the power of their positions to attack innocent, well-meaning teachers who actually grasp how people learn languages. What an odd situation we are all in!
This is the first in a series of blog posts about how pigs can’t fly:
I have come to the conclusion that teachers who use comprehensible input are in a much more dangerous position than regular teachers. They are in a dangerous position because the work of making a class human, that is to say one in which human values of back and forth communication and give and take, which are required if language is to happen, are directed at kids who may not have been trained in the art of real human communication.
Here’s something I”m in the process of memorizing for the next time someone says to me that my class is not structured:
“My class is structured in the same way that what I am saying right now is structured. What I am saying now is structured but you are not aware of it. You are just focused on the message.
I will pause here and repeat that first sentence bc they are likely to not get it the first time. Then I will say:
“That’s what I want your son/daughter to do in my class – to understand what I am saying without focusing on the structure of it. This is their challenge in my class – to understand what I am saying in French. It’s not easy and a few kids don’t figure this out for months. It’s not easy because they have to use an entirely different part of their brain than the part they usually use in their other classes. It’s very challenging and rigorous.
This is a repost – with ensuing discussion – from 2012 on the topic of whether or not instruction using comprehensible input can even work in our schools:
Especially in my school, students move around the building with impunity, with tardies being out of control, absences being off the chart, and statements to teachers very often being resisted as untrue and somehow the fault of the teacher.
Behind this obvious impunity is a second level of impunity in the form of a culture of disengagement that defies description even in gifted students. That fact causes many of us to think incorrectly that we can’t keep a handle on classroom discipline, when in reality the problem has much less to do with our classroom management than with the broken culture described above.
A repost from 2013, found by Betty. I had some fire going on in my attitude that year:
We need to make a new category that answers this question:
What specific resources do we have to deal with administrators who AREN’T going to be swayed by any amount of research and who rather rudely come into our classroom with sharpened pencil and with their boxes needing to be checked?
I’m talking about the really dimwitted admins who walk in and see (grossly incorrectly) what they think is a teacher oriented classroom and evaluate us in those terms, those new robotic terms sweeping education now, and fail to even see what we are really doing.
There are fettered and unfettered responses to discipline problems. A fettered response would take into consideration all sorts of factors like who said it, the tone of voice, the history of the kid’s involvement in class, the kid’s grade, who their parents are, if the administration likes them, if they are a cheerleader or a football player, what they were wearing the day they chose to say in class the word “faggot” in class or some other equally horrific word about another human being.
Unfortunately, most of us make the fettered response. Our response could even go so far as to be related to the weather conditions that day, or even our own mood. In that reasoning, if it’s a beautiful day in spring and we are having a good day and some kid calls a classmate a faggot, but it’s Friday afternoon and there is a big dance that night and everyone is happy, and the kid “really didn’t mean it”, did he, because he apologized on the spot, by that line of reasoning, calling a classmate that name just doesn’t look like it does on a Monday morning in January.
Today I received a private e-mail from John Piazza and reproduce it here. I think its timing, its subject matter and its implications for the future of this work are staggering. We must decide how we are going to respond. Inaction will result in, in its worst form, the end of our profession as we know it, because all the good teachers will be gone:
Hi Tina and Ben.
I woke up this morning to a troubling thread on CI Liftoff, which I guess that you have seen. A teacher had posted asking for advice on alternative careers for herself, a qualified teacher with a MA. She said she could no longer stand the stress, anxiety, early mornings, etc. What followed was 40 comments by CI teachers, who are also considering getting out of the teaching profession, or teaching/training adults, etc.
Administrators cannot be expected to know all best practices in language education, especially for a content area that is so drastically different from core subjects, so we have to educate them. In the following communication between Robert Harrell and a parent, we have a template from Robert that we all could modify to use to answer any parent inquiries like the miserably informed one he once received below:
Good afternoon Mr. Harrell,
My wife and I have been after our son for the last few days and his grades and participation at school. Do not get me wrong we have been on him for awhile now not just the last few days, but over the last few days let’s just say the hammer has been dropped on our son. One of the biggest items that I have noticed is that our son has not been correctly informing his mother or me on his assignments for German. Nor has he been using his daily schedule planner to write down what his assignments are or when a test is coming up. We have both informed our son that this is to change, we want to see what is assignments are, when there is something due and when test/quizzes are going to be for German written down in his planner. I was going to ask you to also send my wife and I an email with what is assignments are, when they are do and when test/quizzes are but to save you time with that, my wife and I would like for you to initial our son’s planner before he leaves class every day. This way we can see that he is communicating with you and that he has it written in correctly in his book.
Tina’s principal has questioned her “philosophy”. That was a mistake. CI is not a philosophy. It is a way of teaching based on research. In this post, Robert Harrell describes Teaching using Comprehensible Input (TCI), sometimes known as TPRS:
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about TCI:
Q. What do TCI, TPRS, TPR, etc. stand for?
A. TCI stands for Teaching with Comprehensible Input and means just that: the teacher uses messages in the target language that learners find compelling and understandable to help them acquire the language unconsciously. TPRS® stands for Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling. It is one excellent way of providing comprehensible input. TPR® is Total Physical Response and is another way of providing comprehensible input. Don’t confuse TPR and TPRS. The rest of the alphabet soup is best learned in context.
Traditional teachers and the administrators who believe them about speech output also don’t get what we do also in terms of grammar instruction. They misconstrue output and grammar. We teach a ton of grammar, but within the happy contexts of listening and reading. Our grammar instruction is real because we provide our students within non-stop correctly formed holistic language that actually conveys meaning. We have hundreds of articles on this topic here. Below is a zinger from Robert Harrell:
Tina’s admins want to see more speech output in beginners. They misunderstand. If it takes a child up to five years or more to be able to speak, how then might seventh graders speak after twenty or thirty hours? Over the years we have had some nice posts on this topic. This one is from Nathaniel Hardt:
In Massachusetts (maybe there is something similar in your state), Stage 1 students are expected to “use selected words, phrases, and expressions with no major repeated patterns of error.” Sentences are not expected until Stage 2.
Here is a suggested way to respond to being called into the principal’s office for a “discussion” about how you are teaching:
1. Say as little as possible.
2. Nod your head and get out of there.
3. If the principal demands that you say something, explain that for years you have been putting your soul into transitioning into a way of teaching that you believe is best for kids and that aligns with the research and that therefore being thus confronted in a generally negative way by a superior is, in the light of all the conferences and training you have done and the generally favorable responses of your students, a bit much to absorb all at once and that you would like some time to reflect on what she said before responding.
4. Another safe thing to say, instead of getting into an argument defending your position (you will lose) is to simply state that it is your professional opinion that the field of foreign languages is due for a change, that too many people think that they are bad at languages and have intensely disliked their experiences as second language learners, and that if nothing else, this is a matter that goes beyond personal preferences and is, in fact, a matter of our national best interests and even our national security.
5. Then start sending her articles. Choose from the hundreds that we have here on the PLC, but don’t send too many all at once. Keep sending her one or two articles a week, and engage her in the hallway, invite her into your classroom, etc.
6. [Robert adds to] get clear with the administrator if this meeting will in any way have a negative effect on your evaluation or position. If so, tell her that you will need to have a union representative in the meeting with you. Then don’t answer any of the questions until you have a union representative present.
Generally when an administrator hears from a parent or some other teacher that we are doing it wrong, they call us in for a meeting and say something like:
“Hi! I have some insights for you. If you reflect on them, they may help you move forward in your instruction.“
This is really code for:
“I am hearing things from parents and other teachers that I don’t like and you need to come in and listen to me and change what you are doing.”
Anyone under pressure in their buildings to focus on output (“show what they know”) may want to visit the arsenal of articles collected here over the years and offer some of them to those fool-hearted administrators who have nothing else to do but challenge their teachers when they don’t fall into line with other teachers in their articulation paths who still align with the outmoded methods of the past century. I of course am referring to Tina’s situation in Portland right now. Tina is not alone. I would guess that this week in our PLC at least 30% – 40% of us are under some kind of direct of indirect attack, above or below the surface, in their building or from another building (usually a high school traditional teacher pressuring a middle school CI teacher, which I call nefarious).
Many of the teachers exploring comprehension based instruction today have to attempt to manage the grand transition from the way they themselves were taught languages in high school and college to working with comprehensible input in their classrooms and at the same time deal with the vibe of the dark lords (yes, there are great administrators who get it, but they are relatively few) who, incredibly, those dark lords find jobs in schools, slipping by the net of human goodness that is supposed to keep them away from our schools.
A repost from 2011 that still applies:
Robert has distinguished between a participation grade and a grade, in his words, that is “based on a set of observable criteria (behaviors) that demonstrate communicative competency based on the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for Grades K-12?. This is a grade that aligns with the Interpersonal Skill of the Three Modes of Communication.
I know I am going to need what Robert says there in parent conferences this year. It is not threatening, and yet puts a ton of pressure on a child to become actually present for class.
When students sense that the instructor is attempting to force learning on them, they instinctively draw back. In the moment they draw back, distance is created, and discipline problems can result. We must find a way to draw our students into the learning.
If we focus on the solution, one day we will go into our classrooms and the problems will be gone. Engaging students in interesting, personalized, and meaningful comprehensible input in the target language is the solution to the classroom management issue.
With unruly students, we can work with one other colleague within our department, or our entire department can work together, to function as baby sitters for those kids who just bring the vibe in the room down. We haven’t talked about it in a long time and I am thrilled that Sean remembered it and suggested it just in time for what I call the October Collapse, when kids start to get ugly with the shine of the new year just faded. What we do is have a little routine that really works. We send the offending kid to our colleague’s classroom, whether she has a class or not. If not, she babysits the kid as they do pre-prepared busy work which we hand to the offending kid as they leave the class. If our colleague has a class that period, it is even better, because there is a kid we have chosen for this job, usually a big kid like a football player who sits in the back of the classroom and who is of good will. When the colleague sees the kid come into the room, there is no discussion. Everything is planned out and goes into effect. The big kid stands up, the colleague directs the offending kid to go sit in the empty desk next to the big kid, the big kid tells the kid to sit down, and the big kid becomes the offending kid’s babysitter, making sure they do so with a bit of a scowl. The message is that the big kid buys into what we are trying to do in our class, and if the offending kid does anything to try to draw attention to himself as he did in the other classroom, the big kid squashes it. The reverse is true, of course, where our colleague can reciprocally send us anyone they want and we have our own good-hearted but physically intimidating kid in our own room ready to stand up when they see a “visitor” to our classroom who needs to be babysat. It is a matter of great interest to all the students in both classes to see the offending kid thus expelled from one class and swiftly, within seconds, being made to sit in another class that is usually being conducted in a completely different language, with a kind of guard on him. It’s what those offending kids deserve, policing from another student who takes our instruction seriously. The entire process can take only about ten seconds for the offender to be ushered out of the room, escorted by either me or the big kid in my room, and then it takes another 30 seconds for the offender arriving in the colleague’s room to be welcomed and quickly put under the watchful gaze/scowl of the big kid in the back of the colleague’s room. I have rarely used this, but each time I have it has really worked. I won’t say which schools I used it in, but they are both big urban Denver schools where a lot of those antisocial behaviors had been – big mistake – tolerated by far too many teachers. My favorite moment with this babysitting idea was once when a kid arrived from Barbara Vallejos’ class, with a kid who was kind of out of control. The offending kid was escorted by Barbara who only had to walk him across the hallway. She half opened the door to my classroom, I immediately stopped teaching and welcomed our “visitor” with a big smile, pointed to my big kid in the back, saying, “Oh, welcome to my French class! Trevor standing up back there is going to help you do some work so go sit next to him!” The kid had this sheepish look on his face like he had been caught, and he had, and had no choice because I had trained my big kid to look unhappy that this was even happening. The much smaller but big mouthed kid had to go sit down next to the big gentle but intimidating kid and after a few failed tries to be funny in his new environment, began quietly faking doing his worksheets under Trevor’s watchful gaze. Thanks, Sean, for the reminder about this rarely used but very effective technique.
Nathaniel wrote in a comment this morning:
…Paul from Denver put out a challenge a few months ago. I cannot get away from it….
I went back and found Paul’s challenge, which was posted as a comment here back on February 15th:
We know what we know to be true. And we know that if we don’t do what we know to be true, then we betray our students and ourselves. Students are and have always been the reason we fight when we fight. I do not even do pop-up grammar anymore unless I can do it in 5 seconds or less as I do not want to lose them for 6 seconds, much less 6 weeks. I cannot indulge the one student for a whole minute while the great majority struggle to understand and then feel crappy for having no idea what I talking about. If I can’t explain it in 5 seconds I tell them to stay after class. They never do.
If the kids/teachers ARE burned out on stories, we have the April bail out moves of course, and all the other bail out moves. But I’m thinking of doing what I describe below if the kids are rude during stories w/ excessive English, lack of focus, etc. I’m going to try it tomorrow and if anybody else tries it I would like to know how it worked for them:
The moment I feel they lack focus, I’m going to pull out a yellow card and hold it up to the class. One yellow card = one grammar translation sentence, ex. “He doesn’t want to give the windows to the birds.” Any random sentence that comes to my mind in an instant that I say and then write on the board so that I instantaneously leave the story and the next thing they hear me saying is something ridiculous in L1.
Robert Harrell writes below on the topic of professional obligation. I like reading this passage when I have a chance during my current three days of parent conferences. The parents of my students are wealthy and in the British/Indian mode of push harder and learn more grammar, and it is hard to keep my shoulders from tightening up listening to (a very few of) them tell me what is best for their child in my classroom. Fortunately, most of the kids are so happy about the class that their parents can’t say anything, but even so there are those who just will never appreciate the elegance and the power of stories. Bless their hearts!
My 18 year old son has had a difficult time of it in high school. He is gifted. No doubt, having me as a dad didn’t help him go all bright and bushy tailed about school, hearing me bitch and complain about schools all the time growing up. Now Evan is in an experiential school in the Colorado mountains (Eagle Rock) and doing things like 25 day wilderness trips and 4 day solos and he is changing. He just didn’t need to be in Columbine High School, where four years ago as a 9th grader skater was actually bullied by a group of senior football players in that school. No exaggeration there – he was bullied by football players at Columbine High School and the teacher did nothing about it, even joined in a bit. (Note: the culture of Columbine has not changed since the shootings – you still have to be a football player or cheerleader to count as a person there. The same principal who was there at the time of the shootings only retired only last year.) Now, in this new school in Estes Park, my friend Nathalie Donchery who is French and works at Eagle Rock is teaching him and a few other kids the language but with TPRS. So….drum roll please….I just got a note from Evan in French telling me:
Here are some exerts from a recent comment here by Paul Kirschling of Denver Public Schools, for your edification and enjoyment:
…this job is too difficult to do and still wind up feeling like a fake….
…one might as well get into sales and actually make some money….
…I will not judge but do wonder how long one can last doing something you know is ineffective….
…lots textbook teachers are confronted with feeling like fakes, and that is what animates them….
I got this in an email from a group member today:
…love the kids but harder to steer the CI ship with older kids traditionally trained under a different teacher each year of Spanish….
I think that this statement is very true. We talk about this from time to time here in our discussions, but over the years that sentence has just grown and grown in veracity in my own mind. Sometimes I think that there is nothing ruder than a kid who has somehow gotten it into their minds that the way to learn a language is through verb conjugation charts. It’s just so gnarly when a class puts out that vibe. I want to take all the boxes of donuts, those big flat boxes with the window in them so you can see what kind of donuts are in there, and instead of offering them to those kids as a peace offering if they would only consider stories, scurrying into the closet with them and eating them all myself, ruing the day I first ever heard about Blaine Ray!