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20 thoughts on “Craft”

  1. Plus, there are ways to structure it so that it does not feel like “just talking to the students.”
    TPRS is so story-focused that people associate CI with stories. But there are so many more ways to provide CI…and they are much better-suited to some personalities!

  2. I thought about this point today. I had nothing in mind today for my Spanish 4&5 combo class, so I started them on SSR, which gives me time to think. I pulled out one of the crappy old posters I was about to throw away that the last Spanish teacher left behind. It was a poster of Panama. We did point and discuss. After that was played out, I simply talked to them about a time I had a layover in the Panama City airport on the way to Buenos Aires. They seemed to comprehend, or at least they were giving their full attention and had clear eyes. When I finished talking, they were still looking at me and we just stayed in silence a few seconds and I smiled at them. It was relaxing and nice! We felt comfortable enough with each other to look at each other silently for a bit. At the end we did a 5-min timed-write. We improved as a class by 66 words in the past two weeks.

    1. Julia said some rich words here:
      …they seemed to comprehend, or at least they were giving their full attention and had clear eyes. When I finished talking, they were still looking at me and we just stayed in silence a few seconds and I smiled at them. It was relaxing and nice! We felt comfortable enough with each other to look at each other silently for a bit….
      Notice these things in this description:
      (1) She didn’t plan. (She had confidence that she could deliver a (BETTER!) lesson without planning.)
      (2) The kids “seemed to comprehend”. That is in PERFECT ALIGNMENT w the research. They don’t need to comprehend as much as they need to attend to the input. SO MUCH MORE OF THE BRAIN is working when that happens.
      (3) Her assessment was in the shared smiles at the end of class. Not everyone would call that moment after class an assessment. But I would. That was a real assessment. Because we find our success in joy and happiness, not in measured things. That was in the LAST century, remember?

  3. This! This article! Thank you for posting, Ben. It’s so timely as I head into a meeting next week with a very irate parent who has been sending me insulting emails this week asking why my class is so different from the other Spanish classes at my school and telling me that my class is “too much” and that I’m causing too much stress and anxiety in their house. My gradebook indicates she is earning a 98%! I rarely give homework (roughly 1x/week). I use the Interpersonal Communication Rubric that she usually earns 4/4 on each week. But the fact that I expected them to write about their classmates for a timed writing (using “Special Person Interviews” as a guide) apparently caused this girl to go into a whiny tirade. The mom accused me of forcing memorization and expecting perfect grammar! Two expectations I can assure everyone I’ve never had.
    This article is perfect as a summary of my teaching philosophy/delivery. I will also have my principal present at the meeting, who so far has been very supportive of my approach. But I do believe the cat’s out of the bag — my class IS different. I’m the only one doing CI in my school. This will be a critical meeting as I am a first-year teacher and this parent has had “positive” experiences with her other 2 children in the same school, but obviously with different teachers. In other words, they have been successful “doing school” — i.e. churning and burning worksheets and memorizing vocab lists. Ugh.

    1. Also Robyn here is some more ammo. Just click on the Primers hard link above and access these three posts up there, all by long time PLC member Robert Harrell:
      (1) Communicating with Doubting Parents – Robert Harrell
      (2) Robert Harrell Advice on Rigor to an Embattled Teacher
      (3) A Philosophy of Language Instruction in High School
      There are other primers above to peruse as you consider what you want to take into that meeting. Keep us posted. The “irate parent” thing is something none of us should ever have to deal with, anymore than a doctor should be berated by some fool off the street for choosing to practice medicine in a certain way.

  4. I’d say teachers who reject NT-CI out of hand believe in the old ways of teaching L2 with grammar, worksheets etc bc it “works” whereas I assume it’s mainly the CI students get when they do this kind of work but both teachers and students believe it’s the practice of grammar. But since when can you practice grammar without CI?
    Secondly I assume that CI feels weird to teachers who haven’t been reading about L2 research and theory bc they are convinced of the old ways. And the new ways can feel like I quantum leap.
    Just some thoughts.

  5. Ben said, “The “irate parent” thing is something none of us should ever have to deal with, anymore than a doctor should be berated by some fool off the street for choosing to practice medicine in a certain way.”
    But as trust in teachers and schools disintegrates before our eyes, we are increasingly dealing with such bouts between angry parents and teachers… Maybe off the topic of SLA but definitely within the radical self care discussion, how do we protect ourselves from the accusations, lies and mudslinging that these parents-aim at our hearts? A few weeks ago I received such a parent note claiming that, according to her 7-yr-old daughter, I don’t use the target language in the classroom and I spend my class time disciplining misbehaved kids.
    Here are excerpts from the thread- again YY is 7 yrs old…, and I’m an elementary Spanish teacher:
    ‘Good Morning –
    I am not sure if you are aware, but YY went to 3 years of full time French immersion school from 3-6 years old, and her French is very strong. She is also in her 2nd year of Mandarin study. Some children love soccer, some love music; YY loves languages.
    For this reason, I am reaching out because she has expressed ongoing frustration with her lack of progress in Spanish. I fully understand that in a large classroom, with limited time each day, there is only “so much” that can be taught, but YY feels she has not progressed in the 1 ½ years she has had Spanish, and feels she knows very little conversational “usable” words. She feels a lot of time is spent in English, a lot of time is spent on discipline and controlling unruly kids, and a lot of time is spent with props, toys, etc.. I feel YY is in a unique position to evaluate her progress, because she has other language benchmarks to look at in French and Mandarin, so I don’t want to ignore her frustrations. I also heard similar frustrations from my other two girls, who are similarly motivated to speak Spanish well (who took years of Spanish at Language Stars), but felt their time at school was underutilized.
    I realize that not every child will want to progress at the same speed as YY (or my other girls), and that her base in another romance language should give her an advantage in Spanish. But because our school is all about differentiation and honoring the child, I am hopeful that there is some type of supplemental learning that could be added on to her curriculum that would better reflect her ultimate desire for fluency??? Perhaps some simple Spanish books? Perhaps some more complex lessons involving real world language acquisition? Perhaps smaller groups with other “like-learners”?
    Let me know what your thoughts are…
    I’d be happy to meet with you or talk by phone – and highly recommend you also come observe Spanish class to hopefully dispel some of the impressions you may have.
    I too am a lover of languages and continue to feed my interest in other tongues. I did roughly 16 hours of Mandarin this past summer – using these same acquisition-oriented strategies – to great effect. My purpose was to take the perspective of a student trying to acquire, so that I could better appreciate effective pedagogical practice.
    In general, we want the target language (in this case Spanish) to feel effortless and automatic. it is quite possible that YY’s Spanish comprehension is such that she does not realize we are regularly communicating in Spanish. If that’s the case, then we say, “That’s exactly where she ought to be!” The language is but a vehicle for messages.
    At [our school], we generally use very little English in the Spanish classroom.
    If a student effortlessly comprehends an extended period of Spanish language interaction (classes are 30 minutes long – 3 times per week) then we have evidence of growing foundational proficiency, chock full of hi-frequency and practical language. I am constantly adding new language to the mix; the focus is on the messages (stories, scenes, readings, surveys, etc,) not on the discreet lexical items that comprise them.
    Dramatization and props are simply extra-linguistic and concrete-visual tools to improve the comprehensibility of messages, like pictures, gestures, intonation, facial expression, etc. They extend language and enhance understanding – they do not detract from it. Such visual supports are used at all age levels – through adults.
    I am glad to explain both our Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research-based rationale and show you examples of our strategies, as well as host you for a class observation.
    Generally speaking, there is not a lot of behavior to manage in her class.
    I have never observed frustration, and YY is regularly engaged in the lesson and challenged at her level.
    I look forward to our ongoing conversation.
    The mom came in the next day and saw that the entire class was conducted in L2 and that there were no behavioral issues. I invited her in about 30 min before her daughter’s class, so that we could chat (during my lunch) -and it became clear that the underlying concern was high school level placement – I repeat the daughter is 7 yrs old.
    She was wondering why a neighboring district had more higher level HS placements – I explained about instructional minutes, our proficiency goals (not nec the same as the neighboring district) and the HS all having slightly different perspectives, but that out kids were, in increasing #s, being placed in higher classes…and she then accused me of slamming the neighboring district. She went back to the principal and said I was defensive. He had my back and said her initial email to me could be interpreted as reason for defending oneself (Ya think?)
    She got one of the things she wanted – we registered YY for Reading A-Z in Spanish so that she could, at home/outside of class, listen/read content. GOFORIT.
    I was utterly disgusted that the parent was given a platform to drag my name through the mud. She had already met w/the principal before sending her note – and he is well versed in our language program – but he did direct her to me as the expert. My question is, what can we do (if anything) to prevent such unfounded attacks? I happened to see the superintendent a few days later – and still rattled, I told her abt it. Her response was basically, ‘You simply can’t listen to that; they want what they want.’ But the sting and insult remained.
    I don’t think we should be have to be exposed to that type of mudslinging…
    I recommended to the principal that we offer another series of informational Coffee Talks to the parents (many are stay at home moms) during the day, and that I’d be happy to kick off with a presentation followed by Q&A about World Language in our district (SLA, strategies, managing expectations, etc.)
    Perhaps that will pan out this year… we’ve done it in the past….
    I talked to the union president (a good friend) and she said I covered my bases…
    I am chalking this experience up to one needy mom and trying not to think abt it… YUK.

    1. Thanks for the ideas, everyone. Alisa, thank you for sharing your personal experience. I forgot to mention that this irate mother is a 4th grade teacher — at a school within my same district!! I am even more insulted by her comments given that she is a district colleague. I have not heard back from her regarding confirmation of the time I booked to meet with her on Mon morning. I’m so annoyed on so many levels. My own children also attend an elementary school in the district where I teach (thankfully, not this mother’s school) and I would never send an accusatory email to any of their teachers. This mother is giving me no respect as the classroom teacher, let alone has any clue as to what is going on in the world of SLA.

    2. Alisa, my heart goes out to you.
      When I read your comment, I almost couldn’t believe it. How can any adult take a 7 year old child literally as if kids at that age can be objective. I assume YY told her mother what she felt her mother wanted to hear and of course mum was listening full of prejudices.
      Dear Alisa, in my experience their are some parents who just won’t take in what we have to say about CI and language acquistion bc they are so full of themselves that they think they know better than the professional.

  6. Those parents, Robyn and Alisa, do in fact represent a growing fringe element. Alisa I know how true and right the principle is here: … her response was basically, ‘You simply can’t listen to that; they want what they want.’… and I also know, and I have been in this kind of situation many times, enough to puke, that it is the only true thing to say. Then time goes by, the mother goes after other teachers, and it dissolves fully over the summer, usually much sooner, and you remain the same, having been temporarily rattled, and she remains the same, permanently rattled about her daughter’s life and the family, not you, ends up being the ones suffering. But you know all that. Your situation w that seven year old is really absurd if you think about it. Bonkers. So what do we do when bonkers enters our lives? I suggest that we dismiss it for the meaningless drivel it is. If we see an insane person yelling at us on the street, we don’t take it personally. So that is what that mom is – insane, really, so let it go, right? Of course, when I think back on some of the sessions I’ve had w parents over the years, just the memory of the anger I felt toward them (usually privileged parents) makes me remember how truly bad I felt there, usually for about three days, like a bout of depression.

    1. Hopefully they will let it go but some do not. 4 years ago, I had a mother accuse me of bullying her child. She refused to talk to me and only spoke to my principal (who was usekess) once. The reasons she cited were ridiculous. She ended up reporting it to my provincial teachers’ federation and I had to go through a preliminary investigation. It was a 3-month ordeal that left me exhausted and emotionally drained. Her son remained in my Grade 8 class the entire time and I spent 2-3 hours daily documenting every interaction with him. My local admin knew I wasn’t bullying him and they knew it had to run its course. But they did NOTHING to support me emotionally. By the end of the day, every day, I had nothing to give my husband and kids. I was in survival mode and it felt like I was living in a glass bubble, parallel to my real life. I did get therapy and I did everything I could to support myself. But the administration’s lack of support of me in my time of need made me make a shift in my career. I walked away from that school division and decided to sub rather than teach. I did so much work on myself in the subsequent three years. Ultimately, it was a catalyst for me to become a better version of me, who knows how to separate herself from her career, but it was a painful way to get there. I would never wish that upon anyone.
      I remember saying to the director of education for my school division, “Even the local gas station has signs up saying that you are not allowed to harass and denigrate their employees. The hospital has that policy too. But we, as teachers, have to just take it all?” It’s just not right, but it’s what our world has come to.

  7. The administration’s lack of support is what I want to explore. It reveals a kind of attitude that we see in corporations who are insterested in profits (high test scores) over people. Sorry you had to go through that. Also there is the “if I sue the district it’s easy money” piece….I had my share of hard confrontations, but nothing like that.

      1. After rereading, I’m getting even angrier. Those admins have no spine, they ought to be fired. One of their goals in life ought to be protecting their teachers from ridiculous assertions!!!

  8. My admin did refer to me as the expert, and stuck to their guns about, “This is our WL program and underlying rationale.” But I was also advised to ‘throw her a bone’ so that she could feel she was getting the Premium Product for her exceptional 2nd grader – easy for us in terms of adding the kid’s name to a school subscription for (Spanish) Reading A-Z, but disgusting in that it suggests I’m just not doing enough for her daughter in the classroom…
    It was very hard to keep my cool and pleasant disposition during that 30 minute pre-observation chat. She was nasty and played good cop/bad cop with her 2nd grader: “Oh, I never said you were using English – I’m just quoting my daughter.” As if a kid in the FLOW has any sense of which language we are even using!
    I had requested that the principal be present for the whole thing, but he was busy, and also didn’t want to ‘feed the beast,’ by demonstrating that her concerns were worthy of additional admin time. That was his strategy. But if/when something like this repeats, I will insist, and not have a parent chat/observe unless an admin is present.
    These are people of means, who send their kids to private French preschools and Mandarin lessons… I really think she wanted a private Spanish program for her kid (that’s exactly what she asked for) and the admins bent by providing a side deal…. Perhaps we should offer the Spanish Reading A-Z to any and all kids since we have a school subscription…
    But then what kind of exclusive gold medal premium add-on could we give to the likes of YY and her mom?
    I don’t believe the kid initiated any of this. The backstory is the mom is close with another dissatisfied mom in the district and they’ve been talkin’… It’s all abt HS placement. Start early!!

    1. It’s insane what lengths some admins go to to appease certain parents. If you look back over the years, it’s gotten so much worse! I think you’re right in insisting that an admin be present for interactions with any of the parents. That is a demographic that wants what they want and will push until they see some give. I’m so sorry, Alisa. I hope it’s the end of it.

      1. Tell me about it, 35 minutes of my free period was taken up on Friday by an incoming freshman parent who is angry that we are eliminating the course “Spanish 1 Honors” from our curriculum guide (students who place in will either go to 2 Regular or 2 Honors).
        She said that her daughter is an “HONORS KID” and she does not want to be in the regular track nor to have to take Dual Credit and then AP literature in Senior Year. And taking the “regular” course is definitely not an option because they are looking to get into “competitive colleges.”
        She wants a transcript that has ONLY “honors” courses and what it came down to was they wanted 1) an easy course 2) for it to have the “honors” label.

        1. This really is beyond the ken. As if the “H” might be the one factor that gets the kid in. This is one reason why all the smaller colleges do interviews if they can – to keep kids who are trained to be “honors kids” (and thus are likely to exhibit that kind of privileged attitude and mentality) out, so their campus doesn’t get filled with snot.

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