Burnt Out

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75 thoughts on “Burnt Out”

  1. Bradley, in some ways the school year is as good as over. Students are already thinking about summer, as are we. The year has taken its toll, and we are tired. Staying plugged in with CI can seem daunting, especially in comparison to an exercise, activity or worksheet that is ready-made, and doesn’t require our or our students’ emotional attention and active engagement for 100% of each of our classes. Sometimes this kind of break is just what the doctor ordered (See the sections on bailout moves and fake classes for this). But that kind of work also has its drawbacks: the heap of student paperwork to be graded or even checked off, after even one day of this kind of work, can be exhausting as well, as well as the feeling that we are not really teaching our students anything.

    But now is the perfect time to be trying out and/or tweaking some CI practices for next year. I too feel your frustration, exhaustion, and ambivalence at this time of the year, and all I can say is that, besides going easy on ourselves and our students, we each need to come up with a way to keep ourselves and our students motivated. Having a pet project for yourself or a class could be helpful: taking the stories from the year, editing, maybe illustrating, and putting it all together into a compilation or book of some sort. Of course you would have the students do this work, rather than take on more outside prep yourself.

    Another idea is to have students do more activities like dictation, timed writes, etc. which mesh well with more traditional curricula, give the illusion of production, but are really reinforcing through CI what they have been learning all year. Another option would be to have students read more, say, by tackling an easy reading like a novel or some of the wonderful embedded versions that our colleagues have created. Dive into something with the students, and put it out there as a challenge to the class to see what they can get through by the end of the year.

    I’m just throwing things out there, for my own benefit as much as for yours or anyone else’s. I hope others can provide additional advice, suggestions, or just sympathy.

  2. This is a well timed post for me, I am feeling a lot of what you are feeling. I appreciate John’s acknowledgement that we are all already thinking of summer. It was helpful for me to read that the tweaking done now can be in preparation for next year. That gives me permission to try new things even at this late point. I find myself fantasizing about how next year will be easier. I guess I can help next year to be easier by practicing my CI skills now. I am about to start my first novel this week and I hope it goes ok. It would be nice if I could ride out the year alternating between reading the novel, discussing some parallel characters to those in the novel, quick quizzes on the novel and parallel characters, dictee taken directly from the text, quick write re-writes of sections of the novel etc. Probably punctuated with some look and discuss of random and interesting images if they start to get bored. Maybe singing some French songs, because I like singing and I think the group I am working with might be amenable.

    We are about to go into April testing in NY, it has been raining all weekend, we are all a little glum in my school right now. I’ve decided that I can’t bail out to worksheets because I know it will depress me too much. I am hoping for something really fun and happy to discuss in class because it does brighten my day so much to talk about the good things going on in my students’ lives in French. My principal posts an “instructional focus” on our main office white board at the beginning of the week taken from the Danielson Framework for teaching and today’s was “2a – interactions between teachers and students reflect…genuine caring, warmth and sensitivity” I feel like only work in CI can do that, even the bail out moves, even the fake classes. I have to talk to them as real people, even when I feel like I have failed at doing this, I know I will feel better if I try to keep doing it. I am going to shoot for doing CI, even if it isn’t great CI, because I can FEEL that it is better than no CI.

    Bradly, I hope it helps to know you are not the only one who feels frustrated and burnt out. I just reread your reports from the field and it sounds like you are a caring and wonderful teacher…and student, because we who are new to this are students studying the process and learning as we go. You may have turned back to some old techniques, but there is no way that you have lost the essence of who you are as a teacher and a student and a person, so I feel confident that you will find your way again.

    I also teach in NYC, so if you would like to meet up to talk in person, please feel free to message me at cerobinson1@gmail.com I don’t have anyone else at my school doing this work, so it would be great to collaborate!

    1. Well timed for me too. Classes are starting to feel longer and longer.

      I feel like kids are more checked out than earlier in the year. So I’ve started 2 sentence translation quizzes after EVERY activity if my classroom rules aren’t followed by everyone. . . a little peer pressure. I give up some of my more intensive input time, but it’s worth it if I get better focus. I haven’t grade these quizzes, but I don’t think kids have picked up on that yet.

      More reading, of any form, is my solution to the April blues. I’ve been doing some Read Aloud with every class and brief ROA on the novel.

      The other thing I’ve realized is that I don’t need to introduce anything new. I can focus on just getting reps of the structures I’ve already presented. So I’m going back to do some ROA of previous stories and MovieTalks, but I’m embedding those readings with words from the high-frequency lists. It takes a while, but I’ve been creating text below screenshot slideshows of MT’s in the hope that it will make the reading more comprehensible and compelling.

      My take-aways from this year:
      1) I need more accountability (in the form of input-based tests), because intrinsic motivation isn’t there for everyone.
      2) I need to find a balance between doing less (more targeted, limited vocabulary) and still being compelling.

      1. Eric, I’m with you on needing more accountability to address loafer students. I’ve been letting myself run out of time too often and not giving quick quizzes every day. And it shows in a drop in focus of a few classes. Also, I’ve only ever given quick quizzes at the very end of class, but I’m going to up the ante by removing predictability next year and popping a quick quiz at any given moment in class. Just to really wake them up to the fact that they in fact do have to constantly follow the conversation in order to pass my class. And those quizzes are going to count. I think I remember you saying you do that, right? (quizzes at any moment, not just the end of class) I’m so sick of kids thinking they can just tune out and still be rewarded with a passing grade.

        I’m also with you on doing less, but still being compelling. For me, I think the compelling part comes from us being freed to BE more when we stop trying to get so much done (i.e. believing we can get our kids fluent in four years if we get good enough at it). I’ve noticed this year that when I’m able to BE IN THE MOMENT with a non-interested kid (precisely because I don’t have a to-do list in the back of my mind instead of engaging with that one kid in that moment), the “compelling” factor has gone way up.

        Once I’ve had several in-the-moment interactions in the TL with that one kid over the course of a few days, that kid starts to be interested. At least that’s how it works for me. And when I’m able to do that with several tuned-out kids per class in a given day, the “compelling” level of that one class begins to slowly inch up until it’s back to a healthy level in a week or so. So, fully-present teacher (no to-do list) = compelling for the kid. Does that make sense?

        I have a few kids in one class who were trying to completely tune out for a while, but after repeatedly engaging them (even going so far as using Annoying Orange on some days), one of those kids is now very “present” in class and even volunteered to act last week.

        I think we have to avoid the temptation that we have to DO more compelling stuff in order to BE more compelling. I had to take a 2-hour Monday night health class in college as part of education licensure. I really wasn’t interested in the class at first, but the teacher engaged with us as individuals throughout the semester through individual questions during class and dialogue with us in required journal entries on anything from physical to emotional health. In the end it was her BEing present that got me engaged in the class. She really didn’t DO much aside from talk with us and introduce topics for conversation. By the end of the semester I looked forward to going to that class every Monday night. Personal interaction is compelling.

        And -since this article is about burnout – I think giving ourselves permission to not have to teach the entire lexicon of our TL is one way we can prevent (or at least slow down) burnout before June. Finding things out about our kids, either real or imaginary, is energizing. But it only works if we’re not rushing through that interaction looking for the next detail in our story. We have to be present.

        1. This is a major sentence right here:

          …when I’m able to BE IN THE MOMENT with a non-interested kid (precisely because I don’t have a to-do list in the back of my mind instead of engaging with that one kid in that moment), the “compelling” factor has gone way up….

          It’s kind of a missing link type of thought. We need to own this. We are not teaching the language. We are teaching kids the language. The kids come first. And yet we often focus more on the targets. Thank you for saying that Greg.

        2. …I have a few kids in one class who were trying to completely tune out for a while, but after repeatedly engaging them (even going so far as using Annoying Orange on some days), one of those kids is now very “present” in class and even volunteered to act last week….

          How major is this event? I would have to call it very major. Major major.

          1. Thanks, Ben. It certainly felt major. A few months ago I approached that particular student because I noticed he was trying to tune me out and I stood right next to him while I asked some basic yes/no questions about details we had just established. He gave me some brusque, eye-rolling, barely audible responses. Although I didn’t like his attitude I let it slide, figuring he was new to real interaction in the classroom (I just cheerfully said “Yes, exactly Romain!” as if his attitude hadn’t just happened -since his response was correct).

            Thanks to the simplicity available through what we do, I was freed to interact with him a little bit each class in a calm, sincere (and sometimes annoying) way and watch his defensive armor fall off a little more each time. It’s been a slow process though! But the work we do is so worth it when students like him do something like volunteer to act.

        3. Since repetition is the key to learning, I just want to state my take-away from what Greg said above:

          We get to compelling when we slow down and engage the structure around a student vs. trying to engage the student around a structure. This means our main area of focus is the student. And I hear in the above also that “finding things out about our kids, either real or imaginary…” is pretty much necessary to get to compelling. Thank you again, Greg. That is some finely thought out stuff right there. We have to take the language to the kids through the kids. A compelling story is a wonderful thing, but a compelling discussion about a kid is even better.

          How are the French reacting to this, by the way? It sounds like the kids are digging it. Your colleagues?

          1. I love the wording of that, Ben -it’s a helpful way for me to think about it:

            “We get to compelling when we slow down and engage the structure around a student vs. trying to engage the student around a structure.”

            I just wrote that quote inside the cover of my copy of Stepping Stones for safe-keeping.

            My kids here are loving stories, especially at the high school (I do have one class at a collège who evidently have had any capacity for imagination completely zapped out of them. I can’t wait to be done with them). My favorite class is a group of premières who I was warned had terrible English. Funny, their English seems to be right were it should be when I have them.

            As far as colleagues, their reactions have been anything from blatantly disapproving faces to one teacher who wants to watch my last lesson to “see that thing I do with them”.

          2. I love this thread so much. It is the essence of what we are doing, which is easy to forget because we are in schools and therefore are subject to the “forced agenda mentality” of “getting through stuff.” It honestly doesn’t matter whether we are trying to “get through” unit 6 in the book or a rocking script by Jim Tripp or Anne Matava. When our energy is about “getting through” it creates a veil or a brick wall of separation. Of course a script is less likely to cause this but we still have to be careful. Being present is the only way to connect. Connecting is why we are here (in our classrooms…and in our lives). Greg’s statement below sums it up well:

            “Finding things out about our kids, either real or imaginary, is energizing. But it only works if we’re not rushing through that interaction looking for the next detail in our story. We have to be present.”

            In a conversation with a student last year, this dynamic was brought to my attention kindly because she was confident and compassionate enough to be honest with me. She said…”sometimes it feels like you’re just trying to get through the story.” We all know the feel of this when we are working too damn hard externally to get to the next thing. What if there were no “next thing?”

            I ran, no slammed into this a couple of days ago as I taught a workshop to my former colleagues. While I felt really grateful and happy to help them on their transition to CI, and they had never been to a demo, conference, or seen me in my classroom…it also made me sad and frustrated because they are (of course) very much rooted in the idea of “getting through.” When I posed a question about this to get them thinking, I felt dismissed by the overall panic about “It’s been a month and I haven’t even gotten through the first unit (of Raconte-Moi)” They can’t help it because they have no other reference, and also because there is extreme pressure from the suits. So I need to let go and be patient. And what the hell? I am not even working there anymore, why do I insist on caring about this?

            *Totally off topic*… but can anyone suggest what I would charge per person for a 3-hr workshop? I originally offered this from my heart but then my dept head offered to pay, so…???

            And Ben, thank you for creating the new mantra…

            “We get to compelling when we slow down and engage the structure around a student vs. trying to engage the student around a structure.”

          3. (Teachers new to CI sometimes express concerns like) –

            …it’s been a month and I haven’t even gotten through the first unit of Raconte-Moi!…

            This is funny because I have talked to Carol about this and she would say that what she wanted to do in that series was help teachers get better at CI and now they’ve turned it into a curriculum that they have to get through. Your point is well made jen.

            The language is the curriculum. As long as we are speaking the language we are satisfying the curriculum.

    2. …I am about to start my first novel this week and I hope it goes ok….

      If nothing else, Read and Discuss, which most of us use when teaching novels (lots of articles in that category), simplifies teaching and still brings CI, usually without the sparkle of stories but who cares about sparkle in April. Our jobs are hard and like John says we are all pretty much worn out. (Why can’t we admit that? Because we are superstars? We need to get over that tendency to be the brightest teacher in the building.)

      … I have to talk to them as real people….

      Here’s one idea – take the kid with the biggest heart in the room and say something about him or her. You may want to warn that kid in the hallway before class that (s)he will be talked about and to support you with a broad smile. Then say, “Class, Jason is spoiled.” Circle that. Rinse and repeat. You are teaching only one thing – gâté. Then use some comparative/superlative adjectives to compare others to Jason. See what happens. Since you are talking about a real person, it honors the goal that the class show “genuine caring, warmth and sensitivity” but in the only way teens understand and can relate to, under a thick layer of teasing and humor.

      1. “Why can’t we admit that? Because we are superstars? We need to get over that tendency to be the brightest teacher in the building.”

        Right on the money. I feel an immense pressure to “prove myself” to everyone in the building, especially my principal. It’s like I need to communicate to everyone that the work we do is valuable, is worth something, is important. Maybe that comes from my own insecurities (Is the work we do valuable? Or worth something? Or important?) or how exhausted I feel when I carry that kind of weight on my shoulders.

  3. Bradley, if you ever wanted to get together in NYC, we could try to set up a TCI meeting to share what works and what doesn’t, and even coach a little ? Maybe Brigitte would join us from Long Island , or some of the Spanish teachers in Newark that use TPRS ?

    We could form a support group in tri-state NY the way Anny Ewing has done it in Pennsylvania, and Dianne N. in Chicagoland.

    Anyone interested?

    1. I would totally join you for something like that!!!!! That’s what’s sorely missing for me – the exchange with like-minded individuals. I have a feeling, Joe might be interested in it, too! Let’s make this work.

    2. I would definitely be in. From the times I’ve collaborated with just other teachers in my school, I’ve felt rejuvenated, like I’m not going this alone. I would love to hear from other teachers and share some of my own ideas, too.

      Let’s do this!

  4. Maybe Dianne N. , Sean or Anny E. could give us some insight on how best to organize a meeting.

    Should we start off “small” with a few teachers ( members of Ben’s blog ) that would get together on a Saturday morning in NYC ? in someone’s classroom ? Starbucks?

    I’ll start a list: Bradley, Carly, Brigitte, Joe, Catharina, maybe Chill , and Liam

    1. I think that’s a great idea. We started with PLC people and added some more by word of mouth. We meet for several hours and include lunch — since a lot of us were traveling at least an hour to meet, we wanted to make the time worthwhile. Now we’re around 20-25 teachers who are invited each time. We’re aiming for quarterly, rotating which teacher hosts at his/her school.

      Last time we had a Chinese teacher wanting to see how to start with CI after hearing from a friend in the group… that was great. It’s great to meet those teaching your language, and it’s also great to hear from those teaching other languages. I got, for example, great help with my first, beginning-level day 1 plans from European language teachers in part because they get CI principles and they are unfamiliar with Chinese, both of which was necessary to help with some questions I had about characters. Their feedback made a big difference in how I teach this year to the benefit of my students (and therefore to me too!).

      We’ve met in classrooms after the first meeting at a library, which Sabrina Sebban-Janczak organized. I’d like to recognize her initiative in that group beginning. I think it’s going to grow.

      Two things we haven’t done yet that could be in a future year: more peer coaching and help aimed at people new to the method, and bringing in speakers or specific training topics. We’ve done demos with each other and talked through issues, and shared resources (ex, jGR, read & discuss templates, grading ideas).

      1. yeah… perhaps those of us that have more experience with TCI overrun the conversation at our Chicagoland TCI group. We should probably be conscientious of that at our next meeting. Thanks for bringing that up, Diane! (and I’m so appreciative of you for rolling along what Sabrina started).

        1. Well, I didn’t mean it as a criticism – but I also think that some newer teachers might like just listening and watching for a while. You know, the silent period. I needed that anyway (it was the 2 years before I joined this PLC and started to blab, blab, blab as you can see!).

      1. …and Laurie ! Wow! Fantastic !! Will you be in the NYC area some time in the next months?

        Maybe we could all meet in May when Greg is back from France?

        Let’s make it happen!

    2. I am going to ask the powers that be if I can host Anny and Lori’s group at my school in May. If I get a yes, Anny and Lori will pick a date. I think their idea is to move around the area – kind of a moveable CI feast! I am down near Philly, though.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Please count me in too. I’ll be back in New Jersey (my home state) from France in May. If we can get something(s) together in May/June/the summer, I’ll definitely in. Why not organize several on a few weekends throughout the end of the school year/summer? Our own little summer academy. We could even plan a little syllabus for what we’ll focus on.

    I’ll bring the coffee. Or beer. Let’s do it!

    1. Carly Robinson

      Can we pick a date or propose a few dates and make a NYC meeting happen? I propose May 10, 24 or 31st. I live in Queens and work in Brooklyn. I could find out if my school would allow us to meet in my classroom on a Saturday afternoon. There is also a beer garden in Queens that I love, big tables and open to the elements, so it is very lovely on a nice afternoon. Maybe not as good for coaching, but would be great for hanging out and chatting!

          1. Shall we settle on May 10 like Carly suggested? Beer gardens in Queens?

            Chill is having a TPRS meeting in southern NJ, near Philadelphia, some time in May. Annie Ewing and La, are hosting a gathering near Philly Friday 4/18 in the afternoon.

          2. Works for me too! Chill, when exactly is your NJ meeting in May? If it’s open to anyone I’d love to come…I’ll only be an hour north of Philadelphia when I’m back in NJ.

          3. Carly Robinson

            May 10th sounds good to me! What if the NY area teachers send me an email and I can start a list serve or mass email to communicate the details of our gathering? cerobinson1@gmail.com

  6. For anyone in Northern California who is not already on Diane Grieman’s email list, there will be a gathering on Sunday April 27th in El Cerrito (about 40 min East of SF).

  7. Thank you all for your comments! It really is re-assuring to know that I’m not going this alone. Greg, you were right on the money with having this to-do list in our heads that prevents us from really going full steam ahead with CI.

    When I really got bogged down with the CI it was because I was checking things off in my head about what needed to be done: circle this this many times, add a new character, is this funny? what do I do next? will we have time for the volleyball translation? how about a timed writing?

    My best classes were ones where I just relaxed, the kids relaxed, and we had a good time. Those were the times when I also got a better sense of when something ran its course.

    I think I’m going to do R&D at least until spring break (which is in 2 weeks). I need to regain my sanity and reconnect with myself and the kids in my classes. Today we did 30 min. of FVR/SSR and it was nice. It was relaxing, and I could just wander around and talk to the kids. No checklist. No to-do list. Just reading and calm.

    Some inspirational reading that’s helping me get by: Rafe Esquith’s “Real Talk for Real Teachers” and Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

  8. I’ve also dropped off the map; just been a stressful winter this year with missed days, extended school days now to counter the missed days…plus in January I was told that there is not enough money to keep me next year (this is my 3rd year at this school)…then students had a fit and signed a petition, had talks with the new superintendent…too much drama. I’m still in limbo, not knowing if I have a job or not next year…I guess all the uncertainty has put me squarely in survival mode.

    Two bright spots have been movie talk and music–we are actually memorizing the Spanish version of “Let it Go” from Frozen–one stanza at a time, with PQA thrown in–I have a lot of buy-in from the kids on this (it was their suggestion after watching the movie) so that helps!

    I will try to be more faithful now in the coming weeks!

      1. Lori Fiechter

        Thanks, Diane. I just found out today that, although my hours will be cut to 1/2 day, I will still be teaching–2 classes of Spanish II and a guided study hall. So, I guess my students saved my job–or at least 1/2 a job! for me.

        1. Lori, that stinks. Glad the kids went to bat for you. Good for them. I am also getting lots of happy faces with the frozen song. In French – Liberee, Delivree. My kids think it sounds better in French than its VO. Hope everything goes your way. In addition to the normal stress, uncertainty adds a whole new level.

        2. Lori I have noticed from my own experience that half time jobs are really full time jobs. Three classes is why. Teacing two classes is actually more like an actual half time job. So if they give you three classes you are going to have to keep looking at your paycheck before you give too much of yourself to the three classes. Perhaps you can find a full time job. Anybody have a job for Lori?

  9. Melissa Snider

    Ya’ll…This is so timely for me as well. I am struggling. In my first year at this school there has been a big learning curve of personalities and curriculum. I am most certainly in need of a conference to boost my moral 🙂 Or just more consistency on the site. That to say, Can anyone suggest the Chicago or Denver conference? I am trying to decide which to attend.


    1. Hi Melissa!

      I don’t know where you are or how easy it is for you to travel. Many people make the decision based on where in the country they would rather be or which week is better for their schedule. Either conference will give you a top of the line experience where, if you want, you can submerse yourself 24-7 in CI and CI friends! Or…you can spend your days at the conference and your evenings unwinding with friends and family.

      This year many of the presenters will be at both conferences so it’s hard to make a wrong choice. Both have a beginning, intermediate and advanced track. I believe that both conferences will also give you the opportunity to learn another language via CI/TPRS if you are interested. There is a great deal to learn as a teacher by being the student!

      The benefit of iFLT is the opportunity to watch teachers in action with kids. It’s not a “real” classroom situation, but it is as real as it gets AND you get to debrief with the teachers afterwards. It is a totally unique experience.

      The benefit of NTPRS has been the coaching team, which is available practically 24-7 as well to work with individuals or groups. It’s a phenomenal, personalized experience for those who want to be coached. There is also a day before the conference where you can be trained on how to coach and support others.

      It’s hard to choose! (and that is why some participants go to both!)

      with love,

    2. Melissa if you are nearer to Chicago go to that one. Denver is going to be less hands on I think and it seems to me that is what you need right now. I hope Carol or Diana doesn’t read this, but it’s just what I’m feelin’ here.

  10. Oh yay, I’m glad it’s not just me. I’ve been feeling burnt out for a couple weeks now, particularly with one of my French 1 classes, because there are some real “personality” kids in there who just take so much reminding of the rules. It’s getting tiresome and there is a part of me that just wants to go back to my old way to sort of teach them a lesson. Is that mean? I don’t know, but part of me wants to do it.

      1. Thanks, Ben. I think I will. In a certain respect, they might actually get it if I overload them with ridiculous worksheets and homework. I think we’ll do vocab and worksheets today. 🙂

        1. And remember not to grade those worksheets, unless it goes more than a week. All that paper they generate, so important to traditional teachers because (explain this to me) they can in their minds be graded to give a fair indication of how the child is doing in the class, is a tosser when you are giving worksheets to make them appreciate what they have in your comprehension based classroom. Your time is valuable and one of the reasons I personally like the way we teach is all the extra time I get compared to before when being an AP teacher was ruining my life.

          1. I won’t grade them, but I can have my TAs do it. It’s not like they do much for me. 🙂

            So today we did ER verb conjugation and grammar stuff. They seemed annoyed that they actually had to “do” something. I also gave them a textbook homework assignment, and was thinking that perhaps tomorrow we might have a quiz, some more worksheets, and maybe some other “traditional stuff”. My 5th period French 1 came in and said, “I hear we have homework from the textbook tonight?!” and my response was, “No, that’s just 3rd period, they don’t want to do what we do right now.” 5th period students, “Well, they’re dumb then.”

          2. Nice idea to play one class off another. Excellent.

            Got a good laugh out of this:

            …they seemed annoyed that they actually had to “do” something….

            We live in strange times. Doing “something” in language acquisition, when all the learning is positioned in the mind and in the world of analysis, is really doing nothing. Doing “nothing” in language acquisition, that is, doing the rigorous work of focusing on the message, is doing “something”. Nice job.

            Now, don’t let them off the hook. Make them get to hating the two dimensional version of grammar. And then, if they don’t SHOW UP for classes after this hiatus, slap more worksheets on them. They must accept that either they do all the Classroom Rules or they get the scraps while 5th pd. gets the entire meal.

          3. Easily done. We’ve done je veux, je fais, je suis, j’ai, je vais, je lis, etc…the grammarian in me is clapping gleefully because I can show them verb conjugations. I can give daily homework. Hey, 3rd period, you don’t want to play my game…ok, we can play the way all of the Spanish teachers at school play.

            Granted I’m doing some stories and a little r and d in 5th because I need a little break, but we had fun with ils se bagarrent. 🙂

          4. I had enough of the unruly, chatty 8th graders this morning, and mid-class switched from doing something very student-input (with support, they were writing descriptions of classmates & then I was spontaneously editing one at a time and we read to figure out who) to just a straight up translation quiz. I stopped, told them that was enough trying to get them to stop the English and engage in the language, and so instead we’ll have a quiz. Translate what’s on screen. Then pick two sentences and hand-write them in characters — circle the English meaning of those you chose so I know you understand, not randomly, meaninglessly write them.

            Worked very, very well. I think they respected it – but probably also
            I told them if activities in which they were more involved weren’t working because they were speaking English, not listening, and not engaging in Chinese then we would do a lot more quizzes. I also should give them a jGR grade, which for many of them would be abysmal.

          5. 8th graders are in a class by themselves for wanting to visit. You handled it well. Can you imagine if we still taught in the old way? We’d be getting them in groups all the time. Sheesh! Luckily, we don’t have to do that. It is one of the great blessings of teaching this way.

          6. Thank you. My school is preschool – 8th grade, so they are really feeling the end of a long tenure coming soon. But they’re also feeling high school’s impending approach. They visibly sit up straighter when I say the words! So I’m playing off that carefully from time to time.

          7. So, two days of verb conjugation, two homework assignments…so far so good. A quiz today, my TAs with stuff to do….They look annoyed at actually having to write stuff down, but I think it’s good for them to have to see what the other classes on campus are like because I think they take for granted that we have done and acquired so much this year.

            I’m almost enjoying this a little too much I think. I know there are some that are actually kind of enjoying the rudimentary aspects of the verb conjugation and grammar stuff, because some kids have actually asked really good questions (you know, the 4%er kids), but others are wondering when we can go back to what we normally do. I told them that we will when they decide to do their 50% and follow the classroom rules, but we’d have at least another couple days of this.

  11. Ben, this is why I LOVE this PLC. You have said some dead-on things today! I love me some Hippy Talk. . .

    – “As long as we are speaking the language we are satisfying the curriculum.”

    – We don’t have to grade everything, because our time is valuable. (I haven’t graded anything yet this semester! Literally, it’s been 3 months and I haven’t entered a single grade! And guess what: my kids are getting more and more proficient & confident and I know each of their levels. I don’t need a gradebook to tell me how much they know. They show me every day!

    And my favorite: “It’s [chatting, story, reading] not a core value because we are at this time in our country not about comforting and nurturing children. We are preparing them for the competitiveness of the world.”

    1. I love that you have not graded anything. Unfortunately I have to have 2 grades a week. I am getting better at having the students grade quick quizes but they still have to be entered in the gradebook and then the computer. But I am not giving up. There has to be an easier, less time consuming way to do it.

      1. With jGR you just slap a grade in the book. I call it ACTFL 3M #1, ACTFL 3M #2, etc. up to ten or so grades per term. Looks official. Then when people ask what that is you say what the acronym means and get to explain the Three Modes to them and deconfuse them on how humans learn languages (not by taking tests). jGR grades are quicker to get than quick quizzes. Not concrete data based enough? jGR is a strong horse and there are many articles here over the past two years to justify it as a strong grade, and not some kind of hippy thing.

  12. My problem with the “just being present in TL” thing is that this– which is Krashen’s non-targeted CI– takes 5-6 years to turn into language for kids. By that I mean, non-story activities seem to give me less reps on more structures. Casting this “wide net” is absolutely the way to go long-term, but since I only have kids for 2 years, I am finding I need to “package” stuff into things like stories and output (freewrites, speedwrites, token culture project etc) so they can feel as if they have “done something.”

    I am finding that if you do a really simple story, a la Blaine, with few structures (3 is a LOT) and parallel characters, the kids get better and better. The “freewheelin’ CI”– which I love– doesn’t yield “tangible” results fast enough and I cannot endlessly improvise on the spot. I do actually need a bunch more structure than I thought, MUCH less vocab, and more reps on the vocab I am using.

    1. …I am finding that if you do a really simple story, a la Blaine, with few structures (3 is a LOT) and parallel characters, the kids get better and better. The “freewheelin’ CI”– which I love– doesn’t yield “tangible” results fast enough and I cannot endlessly improvise on the spot….

      This has been my own experience over the years.

  13. Yes. We want to avoid total free lanced “wide net” input because we don’t have the time kids have when acquiring their first language. So we target certain high frequency structures. That is called sheltering vocabulary but not grammar. As long as the students are hearing grammar (correctly spoken language vs. the 1950’s definition) that is hinged on certain high frequency structures, they will acquire. See this link to read a number of articles on this topic:


    I think that Eric meant exactly that. He is from what I gather a major targeter. We should all be able to target like Eric, especially verbs.

    I am not convinced that we need to target structures. We need as well, ideally, compelling interest. So I agree with what I said in the first paragraph above and I also believe that just hanging out and talking with the kids, regardless of the time we have, can bring marvelous gains. Yes, I am saying that I agree with both arguments, the one that says that we need to target structures and the one that says that we don’t need to target structures. I just haven’t been able to figure it out fully for myself yet.

    What does Krashen even mean by “non-targeted”?

    Here are links to articles here on that topic:


    Here are three equally important articles on Krashen’s “net” theory:


    Here is a passage from an article I wrote that completely refutes the point I made in the first paragraph above:


    I don’t see the net as something we can manipulate. Like, in South Carolina you sometimes see people with huge nets along the beach. They will put them into the surf in the morning and haul them in in the afternoon, filled with all kinds of fish. Those (seine fisherman) don’t know what they are going to catch. They just catch fish.

    Can they go out and reach down during the day and, using their hands (an analogy for the conscious mind), manipulate what is going on down below the water? I don’t think so. And if they pull the net up out of the water to inspect their catch many will die for lack of oxygen (kill the CI). Rather, what fish (language structures) actually get caught depends on what is swimming out there that day.

    We can compare some of the structures like the one you describe, Judy, as odd fish, like those odd looking blow fish with spikes all over them. Another example of that for the French is “Madame Brodé has been teaching for 15 years”. Low frequency and, I would assume, late acquired because of that. Those types of structures don’t come into the beach very often and won’t therefore be caught too often.

    Now, since we are teachers, we think that we have to catch all the fish, including the ones too far out. We think that if we don’t catch those odd ones that swim far from the nets, in deeper water (more complex language), that we will be letting down our students. So odd. They don’t care. They just want to eat. If we prepare the fish we catch well for them, they are happy. They keep learning, taking our classes.

    Then, well fed and strong for the fishing themselves, some of them cast their own nets way out there into the water and catch those hard-to-acquire structures. It is all a natural process and yet we try to manipulate it. We don’t trust that it is natural. We want to catch the fish we want to catch. Nobody trusts Krashen’s work. It’s too simple for them. But we can’t manipulate this unconscious process that we call language learning.

    I say again, we may get what Krashen says but we don’t trust it enough to do it for real in our classrooms. We always have to intervene. We just keep pulling the net out of the water. And then we see all the dead fish and wonder why they died. We pulled the net out of the water!

    We don’t just do the pure CI in the form of listening and reading (reading to create a movie – as per Susan Gross – in the minds of the kids instead of DREDGING the content into the unconscious mind, killing all the words (fish). When are we fricking going to get this?

    I describe it here but don’t do it. Just yesterday I couldn’t get Grammar Man to shut up, as he fights for his life with wonderful explanations in the reading of a novel that the kids just don’t care about. Another question is, “Are the very school buildings built to bring the learning keeping us via all the other crap that we have to do on a daily basis from doing CI properly?”

    Don’t answer that. If the answer is yes we might have to consider changing where we teach languages (private businesses where we are not drowned in work and the students want to learn?) or even just leave the field because we’ve given it our best but there is just too much bullshit around us to make it work.

    Our biggest failure in our classes is the keep pulling the net up out of the water, pulling the comprehensible input out of the unconscious minds of our students and thus making it incomprehensible.

    Our students are perfectly happy to just listen or read for meaning and not hear all of our interruptions to “explain” but which don’t explain at all, but rather pull the net out of the water and kill the CI that we have going. We might be reading Pauvre Anne Ch. 2 and, when we come across the Madame Brodé has been teaching for 15 years line we launch into a grammar explanation in English. It’s time for us to stop that.

    So the question comes up for all of us, do we try to force/cram that structure into the net? Do we try to control what fish we catch? Because doing that doesn’t work. And, most certainly, explaining it all in English amounts to pulling the net out of the water, killing all the fish that have already been caught.

    Do we try to direct our CI to these odd fish swimming in deeper waters, out of the range of our nets? No.

    Hence my impassioned plea in this blog post from something I wrote here a long time ago:


    which I got no support on. Group members started talking about targeting structures. I felt bad that no one supported me on that blog post. I got an owie.

    I say just speak the language. The fish will be caught in God’s time according to what kind of fish he had on the eternal chopping block that day. We just fish.

      1. Love this idea. Yes – seeing them swim by is a natural approach. They get it if they get it, when they get it. That’s the non-targeted way. Heavens knows we only have so much time. Can you imagine trying to teach a CI lesson on the subjunctive? Yuck.

  14. I am intrigued by what Krashen says about constraints on interest (this is from a draft hence the typos):

    Constraint on interest. The goal of the language classroom is to provide input that it genuinely interesting, so interesting that students, in a sense, “forget” that it is in another language. In fact, the “forgetting hypothesis” requires that the messages be not only interesting, but compelling, with all attention focused on the message to such an extent that thoughts of anxiety do not occur.

    The Forgetting Hypothesis is influenced by the concept of “flow,’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993). Flow is the state people reach when they are deeply but effortlessly involved in an activity. In flow, the concerns of everyday life and even the sense of self disappear – our sense of time is altered and nothing but the activity itself seems to matter. “Forgetting” and flow occur in reading when readers are “lost in a book,” when they are aware only of the story or the message in the text. It is when this happens that language acquisition occurs most effectively. Note that this position is the opposite of the “focus on form” or “focus on forms” points of view.

    It is very hard to create compelling messages when the hidden agenda is the relative clause. In fact, it is hard enough to do it this when there are no constraints on what vocabulary and grammar can be used.

  15. I think that at the end of the day Krashen would call the way we target structures non-targeted. That’s how I’m seeing this. And the other card I’ll play is that we then all have the right to decide how we roll – either by targeting structures or not in our CI classes. CI is CI and like the U.S. Constitution it can withstand lots of interpretations and not lose it’s purity. In the same way, we do what we want with it, using it to play to our own strengths as individual teaching artists. I have used both targeted and non-targeted instruction in my CI classes. Most has been targeted. Both work. Some day there will be a series of really good studies on this topic.

    1. Thinking about targeted vs. non-targeted CI is what keeps me up at night! haha.

      There is another option: non-targeted sheltered vocabulary that gets the same number of reps, but over the long-run. Cover the top 100-200 words or so and then you limit yourself to them to tell compelling stories for the rest of the year. The quicker you can build a larger vocabulary base, the more compelling your CI can become, simply because more vocabulary means less constraint on interest. By “cover” I mean that you could present them, get 50-100 reps, then move on. You go through the list of 200 words way before the kids have acquired all the words. Establishing a gesture and a visual helps to keep those words in the memory before they have been acquired. Then, you just work those same words for the rest of the year. You don’t get the 1000 reps in 2 weeks, but you get those reps over the entire year. The advantage is that you can go wider and input is more compelling.

      This is much like what happens in the TPRS readers. They limit vocabulary to cognates and the 100-400 high frequency words (depending on level). Throughout the book, they are not targeting the structures like we do in TPRS, rather those reps are all spread out. Another great resource is the Student Handbook of readings that accompany LICT. There is genius in those readings, in that they are clearly written with the intent of embedding as many high-frequency words as possible. It’s a high-frequency word curriculum, which is not true of other TPRS curriculums I have seen (Cuentame). These readings are also not targeting a structure by repeating it all through the reading. You will notice in LICT that the structures listed for each story may only appear once in the story script!

      Personally, I love Hastings’ Focal Skills design, used at some universities to teach ESL to undergrads. My understanding is that students have to reach intermediate-mid in listening before they move on to a class that involves a different skill. The progression is from listening -> reading -> writing. The listening module consists of 4 hours of CI per day, but 3 of the 4 hours is non-targeted MovieTalk. Of course, the more time we have the more non-targeted we can probably be. Still, I really like the idea of just doing listening until you demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency. I’d love FL programs to embrace that model.

      I believe that even if you don’t get what acquisition and comprehensible input mean, I still think it is common sense that communication requires listening before all else. You can’t communicate in the real world if you can’t understand anything. But if you got your listening skills up, then you could get by with poor speech. The reverse is not true: a high speaking ability wouldn’t help if you had trouble understanding your conversation partner.

      Of course, it should be impossible to be able to say something beyond your comprehension level, because that would imply you can’t understand what you yourself said. If acquiring language naturally, via CI, then speaking is not ever better than listening. I think speaking can be better or closer approximate listening skills in a traditional class, because the process is not natural. Their speech is really just manipulated code. They are just crunching rules in the grammar calculator in their heads. And listening skills of a traditional FL class are very poor. I feel like I experienced this! As a traditional FL student and clearly a 4 percenter, I could crunch some decent output, but then I couldn’t understand what people said to me in response. I would have been better served had I been able to comprehend more even if that meant that my output would be less accurate.

      I do both: non-targeted and targeted. Sometimes, the non-targeted serves more like a brain-break from the targeted input. As I learn more about TCI, I’m preferring to limit more and more the vocabulary, because I feel the pressure to get them outputting. If I want output I need the concentrated reps, which I don’t get with non-targeted CI. I am currently trying out the “other option” I first described above. I’ve jumpstarted acquisition of about 50 high frequency verbs and now I’m just having kids read and listen to the most interesting stories/MT’s that stick to those verbs and stay within the 200 most-frequent words. When we are reading together then I will make no attempts to shelter any of the grammar in the text.

      I don’t really do “structures.” I do verbs. I have had structures with indirect object pronouns, present perfect, etc. But that is just to introduce this structure to the kids, not so I can force them to acquire it. I don’t believe we can force acquisition of a structure. That would depend on whether or not CI instruction can alter the natural order of acquisition, which I don’t believe has ever been researched, nor as Krashen said to me on moretprs is there a real reason to do so. But we teachers want to know how much we can control. When teachers say their students have “acquired the structure,” what I think they really mean is that they’ve acquired those particular vocabulary words. I don’t think they’ve acquired the various tenses and persons of the verb in the structure and it doesn’t mean the kids have internalized the grammar in the structure. So, I worry less about whether my kids can output the structure, much like a memorized phrase. I care more that I was able to use that structure to provide more CI.

      I ask, like Ben, what does Krashen mean by “non-targeted”? . . . free-lance grammar AND/OR free-lance vocabulary? A clearer definition would determine the degree to which we do one or the other in TPRS.

      I know the mantra is to not shelter grammar, but I bet we all do to some extent. We don’t use the verbs in the structure in all their tenses as we would if we were to truly speak naturally. We can’t, because the verbs in different tenses often sound to the students like entirely different words. If we did not at all shelter grammar, then we’d likely be incomprehensible.

      Ben, I love the fishing analogy. I think the analogy helps in understanding how it all works. It’s natural. But you’re right: we don’t trust that it is natural.

      BTW, the link to the Oil and Water article doesn’t work.

      1. Like Eric says above, I can relate to that first paragraph so well teaching little kids.
        Counting every word, even yes and no, I introduce my 4 year olds to 50 (100?) words within the first year. With less than that it’d be difficult to interact with the kids in the TL.

        Do they really -own- those words? I don’t think so. But they respond to my questions, do the gestures, follow directions, translate correctly etc. At this point they can even say some words, which sound more like “memorized” structures, rather than truly spontaneous language that happens only much much later.

      2. Eric, your 2nd paragraph is basically how I started. However, the problem (for me) is keeping track of the stuff “outside” the core of the 200 or so central words and the 50 or so “power verbs.” I can keep it all comprehensible no problem. But I find that I end up doing too much stuff that doesn’t get retained because, well, I can’t keep track of things outside the core and so I don’t get enough reps on them. Also because we need readings and readings don’t work if you are contrantly explaining everything.

        The one way one could properly “do” the “wide net” or “freewheeling” CI is by having a class log for each block/section. You’d have somebody keep track of what was done each day. If you had the time to briefly read your last day or two’s stuff, you could just constantly play with what you’ve done and extend it. But the problem again is reading– you’d be contantly typing up stuff. It would be exhausting. I think something like a curriculum is necessary for teacher sanity.

        1. Yes, Chris, what you say here really resonates with me: “Also because we need readings and readings don’t work if you are constantly explaining everything.”

          Reading in characters… you cannot give unsheltered reading in Chinese and expect any child to be happy (or acquiring language from the frustrating experience).

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