Got a few questions this morning –
Q. I’m still having issues going from a character to a story. I feel pressed to develop a problem and a solution on the spot.
A. I think that such pressure is self-induced. I never put any pressure on myself to create a story because most of the kids don’t appreciate my efforts. Too many of them just want to know what is on the test, so for me or you or anyone to take even a small percentage of the responsibility for a good story on our shoulders is folly.
This is a very important point that you must get. When a story fails, you must learn to make it clear to them – but not saying it directly to them – that it probably was THEIR FAILURE as a group to make it interesting. Don’t say it but imply it.
They must know that you are perfectly happy with a nice simple tableau. Early and often in the year you say, “Well, this doesn’t have much story potential, so let’s just bail to a tableau and maybe later this week you’ll be able to get a story going. If you look at the gallery, you can see that at least some classes are getting some decent stories in. Look back there. Do you see those panels on the latest story from 6th period? You can see which classes are completing stories by how many paneled stories there are for them on that wall. Now, you see the drawing under 3rd period? You can see that they just did a tableau this morning because their drawing doesn’t have any panels. So they only got a tableau today. They are having trouble with stories. But I’m ok with either one because my only job according to my national parent organization ACTFL is to communicate with you in the language. That’s all I have to do. Making it more interesting isn’t my job.”
So to repeat – send your classes the message that you don’t really care if they get a story going or not, and that it’s up to them whether a story happens. You can of course still try to bring friction in QL2 through QL4 – just don’t worry if it doesn’t go go anywhere. You can always jump at anytime via a retell to Phase 2 and finish your Star journey from Phase 2 through Phase 5 with a tableau and that’s fine.
Q. I try to create tension between the characters and make the solution simple…I know it’s about the language and not the entertainment. I try to recycle the language to buy myself time. Do you have any other suggestions? This is really the part of the Star that causes the most anxiety for me. I don’t feel I’m creative enough in the moment and the students’ answers can be really complex.
A. As far as those complex answers – you have allowed that by allowing them to suggest those absurd concoctions for way-too-long in class. Next year don’t allow them. They have no relevance to your class.
I did that too, and for years. But there comes a point where you are able to smell those long overly complex ways to finish a story that they suggest as not do-able and so next year you have to shut them down in the instant. All of your questions should get ultra-simple answers from them and you build the story like that with individual Legos and not Lego mansions. Nothing in your instruction should ever give way in importance to their understanding your messages.
You are just not being paid enough to entertain a bunch of screen-addicted teens who if you weren’t grading them would properly not even come to class. You don’t need their approval and you should not be giving them your gold.
So the only thing to do is to keep asking questions and then make it clear to them that you have no horse in that race, whether a tableau or a story. If you read what you said here –
…this [ed. note: QL5 and QL6] is really the part of the Star that causes the most anxiety for me. I don’t feel I’m creative enough….
Listen, anxiety is so prevalent in schools and teachers ALWAYS feel “less than” on the creativity scale. This is how the CI movement has developed. It has turned into a cult of personality.
For too long now – many years – “presenters” have wanted you to buy their act as experts. But I know from working with those same people for 20 years at conferences that they are just business people trying to sell ideas to you and if you just buy their products you will be successful and more creative with CI. It’s a big lie. How can they help you when they are not you? Remember your job in this game is to find your “individual teaching artist” within, not imitate them. [Credit for the term: Moco Loco Thompson, Beaufort HS, SC in 1999.)
The fundamental premise of all good language instruction is that you just talk to them in class in the TL as yourself, not as someone else. You are not trying to be like anyone else.
Back in the day it was shouted to the ceilings of the summer cathedrals that we all had to “Be Blaine” or “Be Jason Fritze”. That hurts teachers. We can’t be someone else. We can’t be anyone but whom we are.
The entire CI thing is being oversold. All we need in the current desert of best teaching practices is a tableau, minimally, picked from any of the three starting images at 12:00 of the Star, and then with it we need the Star, like a dependable set of train tracks, to get us across the desert/through the class, and all our worry about whether a story will emerge is useless worry since it is on OUR STUDENTS AND NOT US to either come up with a good story from the tableau, since our only goal in the class is just to help them get a decent tableau only.
This approach is so easy for us but many of us try to keep making our instruction complicated. It’s what we do as teachers, right?
So yeah just going from QL1- QL 4 and not all the way to QL5 and QL6 is JUST FINE. Then, when other classes start noticing real stories happening in the Gallery from other classes, it will slowly dawn on them that their class consists of a bunch of unimaginative people and THAT ALONE will drive them to get better at stories, due to their watching the Gallery get better and better in the other classes.
The only thing to get a class engaged is when they realize they are not very good compared to other classes and that is the only time they will respond to you. OR you can continue to think that it’s all about how theatrical and wonderful you are. Dude, when are we going to let that one go? Take the yoke off.
SO, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU HAVE TO CHANGE WHEN YOU GET TO QL4 ABOUT YOUR OWN ROLE IN GETTING QL5 AND QL6 GOING. IT IS ALL UP TO THEM. IN FACT, WHEN THEY KNOW THAT YOU WANT A STORY MORE THAN THEY WANT ONE, THEN THEY TEND TO BECOME EMOTIONALLY UNAVAILABLE TO YOU. DON’T ALLOW THEM THAT LEVEL OF SNARK.
ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOALS BY NOT ACTING LIKE YOU CARE IF THEY GET A STORY OR NOT. EVEN IF YOU GET ONLY ONE GOOD STORY FROM ONE CLASS PER DAY, OR NONE, THE MESSAGE FROM YOU TO THEM IS “WE GOT A SIMPLE TABLEAU TODAY SO THAT’S GOOD AND LET’S NOW TAKE IT AROUND THE STAR WITH THE TABLEAU AND I’LL BE HAPPY BECAUSE I’LL GET FIVE GRADES IN THE BOOK.”
THE UNSPOKEN MESSAGE THERE IS “I KNOW WHAT MOST OF YOU WANT FROM ME AND IT’S NOT THE LANGUAGE, IT’S A GRADE. YOU WANT A GRADE? I’LL GIVE YOU A GRADE. I’LL GIVE YOU 80 OF THEM PER MONTH IN TERMS OF QUIZZES AND 20 CLASS COMMUNICATION RUBRIC-DRIVEN GRADES ON TOP OF THAT. HOW ABOUT IT KIDS? IS 200+ GRADES IN A 9-WEEK GRADING PERIOD ENOUGH? (OF COURSE YOU DON’T PUT THEM ALL IN, MANY GO STRAIGHT TO THE TRASH, BUT YOU ARE WINNING THE GAME WITH THEM WHEN YOU HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR FIVE GRADES PER DAY, POTENTIALLY. YOU PLAY THEIR OWN GRADE GAME AND BEAT THEM AT IT.
THEN, IN CERTAIN FAIRLY RARE CLASSES, YOU GET A FEW KIDS WHO LEAD THE WAY INTO STORIES OUT OF THEIR SHEER ANGELIC GOODNESS, AND THOSE CLASSES CHANGE, NOT BC OF YOU BUT BECAUSE OF THEM. THINK OF THOSE KIDS AS WHAT THEY ARE, PURE BLESSINGS.
BUT IF MOST CLASSES ARE THINKING IN TERMS OF GRADES AND YOU ARE THINKING IN TERMS OF CREATIVE CLASSES, YOU WILL LOSE. SO WITH THOSE CERTAIN CLASSES YOUR MESSAGE IS “YOU PROBABLY NEED TO PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE IN 52 MIN. FROM NOW I WILL HAVE HAVE FIVE NEW GRADES IN THE BOOK.” THAT IS CALLED PLAYING HARD BALL WITH THEM. THEY DON’T DICTATE THE SPEED AND NATURE OF THE. CLASS – YOU DO. THEY EITHER GIVE YOU THEIR ATTENTION FOR AN EASY B OR A, OR FAILING THAT THEY FAIL AND YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE COURAGE TO FAIL THEM WHEN THEY CAN’T ANSWER FOUR EASY QUIZZES IF THEY JUST SHOW UP IN CLASS FOR YOU.
It’s actually crazy to think you can get a nice story done in every class period five or more times a day. We can’t fly to the moon either.