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29 thoughts on “Cosmo”

  1. This was a fascinating read. Perfect timing for my end-of-year narrative reports, and more importantly for looking ahead to next year. As is bound to happen, I had several students slip through the cracks for one reason or another. Yesterday as I was reading and responding to the final assessment of a particularly difficult student, the thing that struck me most was noticing the affective filter. I think about this all the time, but usually associate it with kids who have had difficulties with language or with school in general. But suddenly it was so clear that the affective filter is not limited to that situation! DUH! So the kids who have decided from the start that this is a bogus way to learn, the ones who feel they are more advanced and say things like “I learned more with the textbook. I know it is memorizing, but it worked for me. That’s just how I learn.” are not open to the comprehensible input. Like I said, DUH!

    It was obvious on this particular assessment that this girl did not acquire much, if anything. So her awareness that she ” hasn’t really learned anything this year” is true. All year she has complained about being slowed down, not advancing. She has focused her energy on a sort of dismay / scorn that others in the class, whom she sees as inferior language students, actually succeed. I think she clings to the hierarchy established in her previous classes. “Spanish is my thing, and I want to advance as much as possible.” She somehow has this picture of herself as on a whole different more advanced level than the others, when this is simply not true. I am not into ranking kids against each other, but if I did for this group, she would definitely not come out on top.

    Anyway, the big message I took from this was that I cannot rely solely on the comprehensible input. The student has to be open. Being open is really difficult for some kids, and I have to work hard at creating the atmosphere for every student to feel safe and take the necessary risks. And of course I will need to let it go, when despite all of this, the student shuts down. Remember it is a 50-50 deal. I will focus on all of this in September for sure.

    I want to remember this piece of the article first and foremost:

    “Perhaps the most significant factor in Cosmo’s case is the fact that she has had a warm and loving interaction with a single person over a long period of time, and they have talked about topics that are of great personal interest to Cosmo. Unconditional love is clearly the best way to insure low anxiety, self-confidence, and motivation to join the group, in other words, a zero affective filter:”

  2. Jen, when you say “I can not rely solely on the comprehensible input” how are you going to work that into your planning for next year? Your description of your student reminds me of two girls who finished French 4 this year and are off to college where they will quickly learn that there is a big world out there filled with very bright young people. They have spent the past few years thinking that the way i ran the class was totally bogus and they were not being challenged by worksheets and lengthy grammar explanations. You see, they were not able to demonstrate the faux intellectuosity (new word) in which they have marinated forever. I did the unpardonable – I did not provide that stage for them. On the other hand, a young man dropped me a note saying that in French class he felt like an accomplished person and that is where I hang my hat – helping a kid be successful and shine in the least expected place. It’s the method and it’s very sad for the kids who cannot see past the faux rigor of the traditional and accept the gift that is offered. To them it remains all about the packaging.

    1. I mean that I have to work first on the classroom as a community and then the input can work its magic. I kind of reversed these things. Not totally, and like you, I feel really great about how most of the students got to shine. I recognize in myself the tendency to hyper focus on more of the “underdog” kids who in their other classes are seen as the “not so smart kid” and create space for them to realize that they are brilliant. But the danger of this, as I learned, was that I let some of the other kids slide and did not meet their needs as much as I could, so their affective filters were constantly engaged. I don’t know if this is even correct neurologically, but in any case these kids just came in with their minds made up that they wouldn’t learn anything, and in fact they did not. Kind of a classic case of “wherever your attention is, your energy follows.”

      So like Kelly said in her response, I need to work on how I react to a child shutting down, so that I don’t add my bricks to the wall, but instead build a bridge.

    2. …you see, they were not able to demonstrate the faux intellectuosity (new word) in which they have marinated forever. I did the unpardonable – I did not provide that stage for them….

      Love the new word. Sounds real! Now, the question becomes, do we give these little intellectuals what they want by letting them do worksheets or not? Do we decide on an individual basis, removing the most resistant kids from the flow of CI in class not just to honor their request but also for our own mental health?

      jen was this kid totally resistant all year, with her filter that high all year? If so, it must have been exhausting for you. I mean, all year with that cold stare resistance. That’s rough!


      1. I think we have the perfect opportunity to work with our little intellectuals. Why? Because we were/are them. When I see a 4percenter rolling his eyes, shutting her attention down, complaining because he “isn’t really learning anything” I have, as a little intellectual myself, the opportunity to take him/her aside and say: “look, I know you are getting this. I know you want to know more about Latin than I am giving in class. You have to trust me on this. What we are doing in class will give you more ability in Latin than I myself had 10 years ago (I’ve been teacher for 23 years). So, you gotta stick with me and play the game. I promise you it will pay off. In the meantime, I’m going to check this student grammar book out to you. Please take care of it, and don’t spread it around that I’ve given you this. You can read as much or as little as you want, and you can come in at 7 AM any morning and talk to me about anything you have questions about. But, I bet that you will understand most of it on your own. Just know that I am here to help if you want to know more about Latin.”

        They leave with a smile and they are fully engaged in class thereafter.

        We can do this, because we were them. And, because we understand them, we can use that knowledge the keep them “playing the game.”

  3. That is the exact same passage that I copied-and-pasted, Jen. I’m going to have to keep hammering that into my brain, because the moment a student “shuts down” is the exact moment I feel myself tense up (which I’m sure is visible to the students). And that’s the exact moment, of course, that I should instead be reacting with cheerfulness and extra caring.

      1. It’s the way a stand up comic must feel when all his jokes are going nowhere. It introduces a tension in the room that makes me self conscious about what I am doing. Bob, I have read your statement about “trust me” before. It’s a good one. I will print it out as a reminder. Great advice. Do they ever come in at 7am to discuss the fine points of Latin grammar?

        1. I don’t know about Bob’s students, but most of mine do not. This year, though, I had one who did. He kept apologizing about bothering me, and I had to keep reassuring him that I was delighted to have him stop by. The conversations usually lasted about five minutes because that was all he needed. Another student has been seeing me in the hall between classes for the last four years. (I stand in the hallway just outside my door and greet students with a word and a handshake as they enter the room.) Most of the time all he needs is reassurance, sometimes a hint, occasionally a bit of direct instruction, rarely a full-blown grammar lesson – which then takes place before or after school.

        2. Out of 5 who check out the student grammar and get my offer, maybe 1 comes in at 7 AM. Whether they do or whether they don’t is really not the issue, though if they do, I take it seriously and sit with them and talk grammar. The real issue is that this conversation re-establishes trust with the 4percenter. While we work hard to establish basic trust with the 96 percent that have been ignored for decades, we cannot forget the 4, either. I want 100 percent onboard. This last year, I had 1 failure out of 170 students. I have not had one in 10 years, so this was painful. At the same time, this one worked very hard at failing. There’s always two sides to this. Any kind of teenager can slip through the cracks. We have to keep working on watching for the special kind of crack that will let any particular student slide through.

        3. I doubt that they do but I would think that Bob’s purpose in making the 7:00 a.m. offer is to again play to the self image of the kid as special, needing to be taught so much extra bc they are so special and gifted. Once they have that olive branch from Dr. Patrick, they show up to play the game in class. Why? Because he has made it clear that he recognizes their talent and has made room in his day to accommodate it, and the quid pro quo would then be that the kid shows up in class with her ears attached and the judgemental eyes changed out for more receptive ones. Building trust of this sort is not easy. It requires an actively open heart all day every day even on the days when that is not easy. But it certainly beats the option – closed heart between teacher and student.

  4. So much has been written here about that topic. Maybe if we all search some key words:


    and words like that we can find some posts to refer to. I deliberately am avoiding trying to suggest a response here bc I think there isn’t just one response, that each kid is different. I know that in my own experience I have been able in the first month or so to fix the problem simply by making it clear to the kid and the parent that I honor their way of learning, but that it just won’t work in my class. I don’t get oppositional about it even though they are. That puts the ball in their court. Most students, believe it or not (and the younger ones more often than sophomores and above), can make the change as long as they understand that I am not attacking their way of learning but rather am simply informing them dispassionately that they must “find the place in their brain” that listens to and understands French, bc that is what we will be doing in class, listening to French. When it works (I tell them that it will take a few weeks to find that place and that I won’t grade them on any work until they tell me to), they are thrilled that they could do it. I praise them and check in with them all the time for the rest of the eyar. To those who still refuse, I get them out of there. I rarely have had to deal with this issue of refusal for more than a few weeks. But the being kind part, and the red alert to the parent about it, and a note to the most pro-CI counselor in the building, all of those help. It’s something that we have said all year here – the fall of the year is when we norm our classes, and aggressively.

    1. Ooh, I love this: “find the place in their brain that understands French!”

      I pretty much took the same stance, but without that fabulous phrase! The particular situation I was talking about is further complicated by the person’s social awkwardness in general. It was a very hard year because one on one, like in the hallways and just before class, she would bound in and start chatting animatedly in Spanish! But then when class started / the group came in, it was literally like the light switched off. I just couldn’t reach her in a group situation.

      This was also the case in some of her other classes: a basic refusal to participate in any groups. I understand the introvert (haha, I am one!), and have seen that excellent TED talk. And I see lots of individual time even within the group (i.e., reading, choral responding, etc), but a language is for communicating, and that generally involves another person. So…?

    2. Okay, just a quick update on the infamous period five. Yesterday we asked Anne Matava’s story “The Fortune Teller”. One of the guys sat in a chair in the middle of the room with a soccer ball in front of him for the crystal ball. A couple of other guys came by one at a time to “have their fortunes told”. One wanted to know if he was going to be a billionaire. No – because he has 23 wives and has to keep buying them clothes. Another wanted to know if he was going to be a famous drummer. Yes – with the fortune teller playing guitar in the same band. Today I gave them a written version of the story with some things that we hadn’t covered as well as what we had. My fortune teller – who has been resistant though not oppositional – read the entire text in English with only a couple of words of help. He was very pleased with himself.

      For the final exam they will do the “Flow Map” of Essential Sentences and Drawings. Then they will write their own ending for the story and share it among themselves while I walk around and listen. Yes, that last one is output, but I need a presentational grade for the final so I can appease the administration. It is, after all, June.

      1. I think we need a category called “Final Exams.”

        I think you’ve explained this “flow map” before, Robert, but I can’t find it. This would be a great resource for those of us who need to do a pre-post assessment as part of our teacher evaluations.

          1. Oh yes, explanation:

            -You can use for either stories created in class or written stories.
            -Students choose 6-12 Essential Sentences and then write them on the lines. (N.B.: when doing a written story, level 1 may combine two sentences but not otherwise edit; levels 2 and above may edit sentences but may not introduce new words. The only words that may appear are the words actually in the story.) The choice of sentences will reveal how well students have understood the story; they choose sentences that tell the story without adding too much unnecessary detail or leaving out anything.
            -Students illustrate each sentence in the box above it. This shows how well they understand the sentence they have copied or written down.

            This is really another way to get comprehensible input. Students look through the story multiple times and use higher-level thinking skills to determine what is essential and what is not. They re-read their sentences so that they can illustrate them. Students who try to take shortcuts get caught because
            -either they include far too much and don’t have room to finish the story because they are just copying almost everything (but they’re still getting input)
            -or they leave something essential out because they just copy down random sentences without truly reading

          2. I looked at the graphical organizer and it seems clean and spare. So–this is sort of an illustrated summary? I’ve had my students summarize the main idea of a pop song in only one sentence; that made them think a lot harder.

            I like this, especially because they have to repeatedly look through the story to figure out what is essential. And I need to prove they are acquiring those “higher level thinking skills.” This fits the bill. thanks.

          3. Lori and Robert,

            Assessment for this kind of task came up in a discussion on the blog Nathan and I keep. Haiyun asked about a rubric for when we draw cartoons to illustrate stories, whether written or only spoken. I stole pieces of one she found to make this (a work in progress):

            This one wouldn’t work for the assignment you give, but could easily be tweaked. I also limit my level one kids’ work, but I love to see what the upper levels pull out when they are re-telling a story.

            It would be cool to see a rubric for your final.

  5. Robert you’ve allowed yourself one (a presentational grade) in June, right? It aligns with ACTFL’s new thrust away from the four skills to the three modes of communication, which I am sure it does because you used the term presentational and you started us going on the three modes over a year ago now. I wonder what per cent of our classes would be doing more presentational work if we had CI middle school feeder programs. At some point the kids would be doing more and more output, at least some of them. But it wouldn’t be forced, and therefore it would be good.

  6. What makes 4%ers very happy is seeing concrete results of their efforts. One thing that I have found is that keeping a mini-portfolio is really helpful. It doesn’t have to be a formal thing, but those kids respect it more if it is. I try to remember to set aside something at the beginning of each month: a reading, the script of a listening, a writing sample, a speaking activity (ie a PQA set up from a PP ). At the beginning of the next month I show the class where they were a month ago.

    I am showing off their accomplishments…to them. It’s like a pop-up (1 minute max) skill show.

    Things I can point out:

    length of sentences/structures/paragraphs
    tenses used
    subjunctive used
    command forms
    critical thinking skills
    use of detail
    use of synonyms/antonyms
    ability to circumlocute
    ability to recognize roots/prefixes/suffixes
    cultural connections

    It is a little mini-commercial. An ego boost.

    We used to do it BEFORE a unit as an “anticipatory set” (thank you Madelaine Hunter). It is taking the SWBAT format and marveling with students AFTER a period of time and saying “Wow….Now you ARE able to…..You are impressive.”

    Serious soul-feeding for those kids.

    Because our program is a TPRS program, we get very few of the groaners. They don’t know any other way. :o) The ones that we do get are those who are also French students (not a TPRS program in our building) who are also taking Spanish, or students who move in ….maybe one or two per class period. In my fifth period class this year there were a 5 out of 23 students who were new to TPRS…about 20% of the class. It took some of them all year to get to a point where they could appreciate the benefits of this new, weird classroom. In January, all 5 of them could not write more than 5 sentences total on the writing section of the midterm. A month ago, 2 of them were still writing every single thing in English (hiding it from us under other papers lol) and then trying to translate it into Spanish. On the final exam, however, all 5 wrote 20 or more sentences…and 4 of them wrote over 50!! (and NO English pre-writing!!!!) The language just rolled off of their pens. It was delightful to see. AND to see that they realized it as well.

    That’s why we teach for June. :o)

    with love,

      1. “Teach for June”…hmm…for me it means that it is important to keep in mind that the finish line is yet ahead of us. Keep the long view (oh boy is the universe throwing this at me today….) in your mind and heart. Good things take time. Acquisition is a process not an event.

        Choose structures and use structures, but never think that you’re done with structures that you’ve used. Use them from now until June.

        We cannot see inside of the heads nor hearts of our students. At any moment in the future something that we have done in class will click in for that kid.

        To “Teach for June” is to teach with faith that in “June”, everything that we do will have made a difference, even if we cannot see it today.

        with love,

    1. To clarify–are you saving work from each student once each month to put into their own portfolios or is the “reading, the script of a listening, a writing sample, a speaking activity” just your copy of one thing you did as a class that month?

      sounds like this would be a great way to show “student progress” which I’ll also need to do on a regular basis next year.

    2. Laurie,
      I’ve been experimenting with portfolios for the last couple of years and I am more and more pleased with what is emerging. Mostly what I put in there are 5 minute timed writes after we have read a story to the point that I feel “deep saturation” so to speak. The only assessment is “how many words did you write? I then give them a formatted set of questions at the end oft he semester to guide their own self-analysis of what they see in the folder. To my surprise, without a word or question about grammar and vocabulary, the majority of students choose to comment that “my grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure” are getting better, and most also comment on how surprised they are at how much more they are able to write in Latin “in ways that make sense.”

  7. Lori ,
    I do both. It “supposedly” is for the department, but I show it to the students to point out how much they are accomplishing. NO ONE does that for them. They see a lot of “here is how much you have to do” , but very very very little of “here is how far you have come”. It takes just a few minutes, I can do it whenever I want to, and I am always sincere and appreciative of the growth. Why should we only rave about them here?!!!! They love hearing it.

    Since I am elementary trained, portfolios have always held a spot in my heart. As long as it doesn’t involve extra work for me that I can’t keep up with, they are so amazing to look at!! We all need to step back and “take the long view” (Oscar Romero) from time to time…this is a great way for kids to have that experience in their lives…and a skill that will really benefit them!!!!!

    with love,

  8. OMG! Why did I not do this self-analysis piece?!?! I already have portfolios for each student without realizing they are portfolios!!! Oh boy. Talk about not seeing the forest. Each student has a composition book, the kind where you cannot rip out the pages, so everything they have done is in there! One group even continued in the same book from las spring so they have a pretty long view. And then there are folders that have the class stories in them. Yikes. How could I not see do do this?!?! Sigh.

    Bob, I would love to see the questions you used. My gut tells me that the kids would have the same observations. In fact, this emerged a couple of weeks ago when after a timed write, someone was leafing back in their book and exclaiming something to the effect of “Wow! We’ve really learned a lot?” And I still did not pick up on this enough to make it part of what we do. Oh well. Next year.

  9. Jen,
    Here are the formatted questions I give them at the end of the semester to guide their “long view” over the semester of timed writes. BTW, I am long in awe of Oscar Romero! Bob

    Performance Final—Latin ____
    Writing Analysis Nomen: _______________________________
    Date: ____________________

    1) Organize your Timed Writes in chronological order according to date.

    2) How many timed writes do you have? _______
    3) Lowest word count ______ / date_______

    Highest word count______ / date_______

    4) Read through them carefully and identify which you consider to be your best and your worst. Record the dates of those here:

    My best ________________________

    My worst _______________________

    5) Describe in detail what makes your best one the best.








    6) Describe in detail what makes your worst one the worst.









    7) Have you made progress in Latin, based on this analysis? Yes No (circle one)

    8) List the insights that you can take away from this writing experiment.







    What grade do you give yourself for this work? Explain below. _______/100



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