I got this email from Drew who is over in Germany this week doing some professional training and whose experience there prompts reflection on what we all are doing:
After 5 years of no German in my life I decided to come to Germany to do a German class for German teachers in case I ever get lucky enough to teach German. I know I’ve lost a lot of my German but I feel not only bored but lost in this German class. It’s catered to the top 4%, like you say, and I crave comprehensible input. Today I just stared out the window because I couldn’t follow the one-sided presentation about how Germany became a country. Besides that, I don’t really care.
[ed. comment: just remember, my brother, that we are pioneers. I needed a good laugh and I got one with the image of you sitting in there staring out the window. Shades of Alain-Fournier.]
I have to give a presentation tomorrow and its on a topic that I don’t give a crap about. I can follow the teacher a good amount of the time but sometimes I just forget to listen. Just get through it.
[ed. note: there is nothing better for a teacher exploring comprehensible input to do than to experience this helpless feeling of being “taught at” instead of being part of a living, breathing interactive process of language acquisition. When the teacher playing the role of student thus feels the feeling of being disenfranchised and undervalued felt by most kids in language classes across the world, it changes her own professional view of herself completely.]
The teacher asked on the first day what people wanted to learn. Most people said subjunctive or prepositions. I said useful German. I’ve recently come out of the closet to the other teachers here as a teacher who doesn’t teach grammar or use worksheets. You should have seen the looks I got. Everyone looks at me funny when I describe a CI class – especially when I say they don’t have anything on their desks except their hands.
[ed. note: maybe you could gently suggest that it is perhaps a better thing to have one’s hands on one’s desk in class than to have one’s head in any other possible location.]
The best thing about my class is that it’s comprised of 11 German teachers (and me one Spanish teacher) from 8 different European countries and 2 American countries and our common language is German so we talk to each other in German. I am learning the most from them because we talk to each other about things we care about in common German. Not to mention the best conversations happen at the Hofbrauhaus where there is no affective filter.
[ed. note: this is like a great quote from someone I heard recently: “Il y a plus de philosophie dans une bouteille de vin que dans tous les livres.”]
It sucks that I’m having these feelings in a class but at least when I get back to the States to my classroom I can do my best to combat students who feel like I do right now. It’s interesting to follow the blog from abroad. It keeps me thinking.
I asked Drew for more information about this [medieval sounding] class. He responded:
It’s actually a two-week, 30-hour class and today, on day three, the German teacher was lecturing us on prepositions. I asked a question about when the verb sprechen takes a dative object and when it takes an accusative object. She stopped class and in front of everyone said, “You know, Drew, you need to study your prepositions in your hotel room because I notice you keep making the same mistakes…” (Yeah, no shit; that’s why I’m here.) She went on to describe her experience in learning the cases of Latin. My Welsh colleague said tonight over a beer, “She quite cussed at you.” Yeah, she embarrassed me. Maybe it’s a cultural difference between the German and Americans but I haven’t spoken in class since and I don’t really want to.
My comment is that it’s a cultural difference. They still get to do that. In the U.S. teachers can’t get away with that model of teaching any more, except maybe in universities. Now, in this new model that we may not yet see but whose sweet scent we can certainly smell, we have to teach two things simultaneously: 1) the subject matter via comprehensible input and 2) that we care about the students as much if not more than the subject matter. That is the new model (an old model actually for those few teachers who have survived the dark years of the last century in that very way). In every interaction we have with our students we are either teaching them that they matter to us, in which case they will learn, or that they don’t, as has been Drew’s experience this week. Drew goes on:
I hope this is karma biting me in the ass if I ever had a student that I embarrassed who really was trying his best to learn the language. My Hochdeutsch might not be great but on the street and anywhere I go the Germans and I have 0% difficulty communicating with each other and I can even crack jokes with them. 9 more classes and 2 presentations to go… I’m counting down the days until I can relax and enjoy my last 10 days of Munich without school.
Vive le CI!
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
15 thoughts on “Drew Hiben”
Drew, your teacher sounds very “old school” German, which means she is definitely behind the times. Unfortunately, that attitude isn’t dead. A couple of years ago I attended the International German Teachers Convention in Jena. At one session I attended (not a language learning session, Gott sei Dank) the presenter sat and read a paper to us about new trends in language teaching. (Talk about a contradiction!) It was warm, the windows were open, and in the courtyard below they were putting together the large tents for the evening’s reception. Without a microphone or the ability to project, the presenter was totally inaudible to at least half the audience. Did she stop to address the issue? Not in the slightest. Before the end of the conference I was skipping sessions and going sightseeing.
When I lived in Germany I learned a huge amount living with a family that had four children. The two oldest and I had serious conversations; the third child and I read “Asterix and Obelix” and did computer programming; the youngest and I went to the movies (and got in trouble for staying out late). I also came to understand Swiss German because the mother was Swiss and spoke to the children in Schwyzerdutsch – never had an assignment on prepositions or uninteresting topics, but I understand it pretty well.
Thanks for a reminder “from the student’s desk”!
Drew, I feel so sorry for you. Your teacher is indeed very “old school” German, but maybe you still find more of these in Bavaria than in Hamburg or Bremen. It is a pity that you are in Munich, because if you were in Hamburg I would invite you to our house and our school. End of term in Schleswig-Holstein will be tomorrow in a week.
If any of you German teachers is looking for a place to go in Germany, alone or with a German class, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Ben, when you say “In the U.S. teachers can’t get away with that model of teaching any more, except maybe in universities” I would add Latin classes, both high school and often middle school. I joined this blog because I am fed up with the “teutonic” mindset of most Latin teacher lists. That German teacher was correct in referring to Latin as a model of memorizing case endings. The connection of humiliation with this kind of drilling is also painfully accurate. In many beginning programs, students will be successful if they know “a, ae, ae ,am a, is, arum, is, as, is, us, i, o, um, o, i, orum, is, os, is,” and can attach those endings correctly to noun roots and/or break them apart to give a translation. I have witnessed successful Latin students looking into the air at an imaginary chart during a test, and pointing at the correct form before filling it in, or writing out huge charts on their tests at the beginning of a test, so they can solve the puzzles, like a math equasion. All this is to say that I can relate to your frustrations, Drew, and that, unfortunately, this “old school” mindset is very much alive and well, at least in Latin classrooms. All the more reason for a great resourse like this blog, where we can find support and sanity.
I asked someone in language acquisition whom I really respect about this and was shocked to hear them say, “Well, where do they speak Latin?” To me, that is not the point. Why are people attracted to any language? What I hear you saying, John, and correct me if this is off base, is that there is a thrill in learning any language – preferably the one that you are drawn to – and that any form of humiliation for lack of the capacity to memorize must be strictly avoided. Drew found the bestest (…oh did I make a grammatical error just then? oh shit. twenty lashes with a wet noodle and orders to go to my hotel room…) place to learn German over there and it wasn’t the classroom in that medieval setting but the beer hall, which is nothing but a place where people go to feel more human in this incredibly uptight and inhuman world we now live in, where mind and greed rule over heart and giving. Right on. Boy do I have a story about the Munich Hofbrauhaus by the way. Moving right along, I think that the very few Latin scholars like you who have chosen to bow down less at the throne of the Latin textbook to explore new ways of working with this mother language, this treasure that the world still has because of work over the centuries by unnamed Latin scholars over generations, those few deserve at least a civil conversation.
This made me think about the emails that I received yesterday from language teachers in our state. On the NYS Regents exam the students were asked to write about a dream they had had. The teachers felt that if the student did not explicitly say that he was writing about a dream that no credit should be issued…that the entire essay be discounted. Her question ended with, “but then, seriously, how many high school Spanish students would know the word for dream anyway?” Give an entire essay a goose egg???????????
Teachers across the state were up in arms over this topic. I wish you could read my students’ essays….beautiful, beautiful pieces about flying dreams, superhero dreams, nightmares, romances….amazing. Even more beautiful were the essays written about “a day when you were happy.” My” average” students wrote about a vacation that a divorced family took together (“my parents gave us a very special gift on that day”) ,when a boy who asked the girl he liked to be his girlfriend (“my heart ran as fast as a tiger and jumped high into the sky when she said yes”), and a group of friends that only sees each other every few years (“we are like a family, we will never forget each other”).
The other teachers across the state? Bemoaning the fact that NYS would ask kids to write an essay that obviously required the use of the subjunctive, so they “had ” to fail some students. And we aren’t even supposed to evaluate the use of the subjunctive on this test!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thank you Thank you Thank you Blaine, Joe, Susie, Gale, Karen, Jason, Carol, Jalen, Bryce, Ben, and everyone else who has helped me to believe that this is the only way to teach students!!!
PS HI DREW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(There must be some way to videotape some clips and put together an Amazing Race segment out of this trip :o) )
Good heavens Laurie. What a story! It is precisely in reading stuff like this that I am fully reminded why I am a maniac.
Ben, regarding spoken Latin, you are exactly right. I would add that the same ignorant argument you heard could be made against teaching the dying tribal languages of the world as living languages. After all, the only purpose is archival, for dissecting something that is dead, so don’t waste time pretending that it’s anything other than dead. Rather, the point of teaching a “dead” language in this way is getting students excited about what they’re learning, and help them get to a level where they can access all that a language has to offer, and do so with enjoyment. Very few Latin students (or teachers) really enjoy reading Latin in their leisure time, because this was never modeled for them, and because they were never exposed to enough of the language to develop a facility (in the literal sense that it becomes EASY and therefore enjoyable for them). BTW, there are hundreds or even thousands of people who gather either in person or via skype, to speak Latin. These kinds of activities make students excited about learning Latin. And this is the tradition that I want ALL of my students to be able to access.
Very well said, John. And I would add that reading is most easily taught when the student can understand the sound of the language first. It makes it less mental and more organic, based in the body, and more alive, as it were.
All the people in the class are German teachers and half of them approached me at different times and tried to teach me a song to memorize my accusative and dative prepositions. Bless their hearts. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Frau Evans didn’t teach me those songs in Hgh School. Aus außer bei mit, nach zeit, von zu.)
There is a good sense of camaraderie here and I think everyone has the best intention at heart.
We were brought to Hueber Verlag, which is a German text book publisher. We were given free text books and 50% off anything that we wanted to buy. I couldn’t find any books geared twords CI. Oh the grammar books!! My Welsh colleague was so excited. I’m glad she bought a grammar book because I needed an adjective chart for our class the next day.
We had to write a story for class… I took that assignment and ran with it. Everyone was impressed with my story because none of theirs had magic lederhosen that get stollen. Yeah, that’s more my style. Enough from the hotel, I’m gonna go get into some trouble.
Schöne Grüße aus München.
Drew I can’t wrap my mind around what those teachers want when they offer you songs to learn grammar. If they offer a song to help you memorize the verb “to be”, what does that mean?
In their kindness, do they want you to be able to spell the verb correctly on a test? Say it by itself randomly? What part of your brain do they want you to use and to what end?
Maybe you could start a discussion about defining outcomes and expectations before the class is over. Just ask some questions, since they have already assigned you the role of class idiot, something the teacher apparently needed to do.
Maybe you could try getting into their minds a bit, preferably in class or, failing that, during a break. Try to get them to open up about what they are doing and how it helps their kids.
Certainly they are dedicated teachers. As such, shouldn’t they be able to verbalize how what they are doing in this professional training is going to help their kids? See if you can get them talking about the big picture of their careers.
Maybe you could ask what they think of the work of Bill VanPatten, whose main point is that in order for input to be successful in teaching languages it must be of a communicative nature, which means that the focus must be on meaning.
Maybe you could point out that language acquisition is different from any other kind of learning, that the brain treats language differently from normal human cognition and therefore should not be studied cognitively.
I read recently – was it someone on the blog? – that the vast majority of teachers are unable to iterate a coherent philosophy of second-language instruction. That is where those of us who have consciously adopted CI-based instruction have a definite advantage. We understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and know something about the research-based underpinnings (or at least everyone on this blog does, I don’t know about others). As dedicated as those teachers are, I imagine many of them would be hard pressed to give a coherent statement of their teaching philosophy.
BTW, I also teach my students the song for the Dative when I am giving them helps for editing (Monitor). It’s to the tune of the “Blue Danube” waltz, but I (radical graduate of the 60s that I am) add one more dative preposition just because it throws the entire song off kilter. Especially for Drew: Aus, Außer, Bei, Mit, Nach, Seit, Von, Zu — Gegenüber. (My students always laugh and perk up when I toss in the Gegenüber. And the other thing I like is that Gegenüber is postposition.) Another song I use for case is “Das doofe Fischlied” (The silly fish song). Recently one of my former students posted on Facebook that whenever he has to consciously think about the case, he sings that song. (once again, Monitor) The main reason I use it, though, is that it’s another excuse to get up and move around, going from Nominativland to Akkusativland to Dativland. Gets the blood flowing and the brain cells working. Both songs are definitely a change of pace for the upper levels.
BTW, I never did learn the accusative song, though I’m certain at least one of my teachers taught it. Nonetheless, I rarely misuse the case because I have heard so much German in context.
Ben, thanks for increasing the number of comments that show up along the side. It makes it easier to keep up.
Context is the important thing. Someone quizzed me here, what case is “entlang.” I said didn’t even know it was a preposition because I learned on the street when someone was giving me directions. You only say “die Staße entlang” (down the street) and I don’t think the word entlang would be used in any other context. I think it’s accusitive but why bother learning that.
As far as the other teachers offering me a song I think it shows their good natures as teachers. Even if they are Gramatik-based teachers they still want to see success. If for them success is that I know that entlang is accusative then good for them.
I’m going to try to slip in somehow the one word image of l’œuil from YouTube and see what kind of reaction I get. That might be a good point to start a discussion.
…I said didn’t even know it was a preposition because I learned [it] on the street when someone was giving me directions….
OK that is my belly laugh for the day. Hee hee hee…..
You gotta admit that the preposition songs can be fun though. When we do the dative ones, I always make everybody stand on their chairs (as do I) and I direct them singing it, playing the role of an orchestra conductor to the hilt.. The whole class sings the “Aus, außer, bei, mit” part together, and then I point my baton at individuals or sections to sing the “nach seit, von, zu.” Now, a la Robert, I think I’ll come up with a special action to get “gegenüber” in as a laugh line to throw off our rhythm.
Big props for the doofe Fischlied as well. I once took a group to a “German Days” competition at UW-Madison and had a couple students crash the singing competition by singing the Fischlied while juggling and dancing around each other. I just missed seeing them, but when I asked how the judges received it the response was “They couldn’t stop laughing.” Now I can’t sing that song without wanting to juggle something.
The difference is, we’re not using the songs to “make the grammar fun,” we’re singing the songs to have fun, and the grammar hitches along for the ride.
Posting from an AP Institute in Las Vegas –
Another fun song that I use is “Das Fliegerlied”. My level 3 students turned in a video for their final; at the end one group had some “bloopers” and a full rendition of them doing the song, motions and all, in the park!
For non-German teachers, the song has the basic lyrics:
-Ich flieg’, flieg’, flieg’ wie ein Flieger = I fly, fly, fly like a plane
-Bin so stark, stark, stark wie ein Tiger = am as strong, strong, strong as a tiger
-Und so groß, groß, groß wie eine Giraffe = and as big, big, big as a giraffe
-Uoh, oh, oh so hoch = uoh, oh, oh so tall
Und ich spring, spring, spring immer wieder = And I jump, jump, jump over and over
Und ich schwimm, schwimm, schwimm zu dir rüber = and I swim, swim, swim over to you
Und ich nehm’, nehm’, nehm’ dich bei der hand = and I take, take, take you by the hand
Weil ich dich mag = because I like you
Und ich sag = and I say
“Heut’ ist so ein schöner Tag” = today is such a beautiful day
la, la, la, la, la = la, la, la, la, la
My students ask to sing this one a lot.
Here’s a link to it for anyone who’s interested.