Greg’s Question Version 2.0

Oddly, another teacher besides Greg expressed a very similar situation to his today as well. Responses and ideas are welcome from all to both Greg and Carly, who’s been a member of our group for many years. Here is the (rather lengthy) discussion so far with Carly:

Hi Ben,

I’ve been mostly lurking and only occasionally commenting here over the past few years.  I also was part of your War Room at the iFLT workshop in Denver three or four summers ago.  You coached me in a One Word Image and helped me see that I needed to ask questions like I really wanted to know the answers and not think ahead to what structures I wanted to get to next.  It was very intense and emotional for me. But it was a crucial moment for me that changed my mindset from caring about getting to the language to caring about getting to the kids.

I am reaching out again after reading a recent post about the mental health aspect of the PLC.  I am in need of some coaching or a pep talk or advice or something.  I am a week and a half into a new school year and I feel desperate.

I have always taught 7th and 8th grade French, and I am the only French teacher in my school so they have me for two years.  Last year I had one 7th grade class that had several difficult students.  Two boys in the class in particular were very difficult.  They pushed my boundaries on classroom rules,  they spoke disrespectfully to me, they blatantly disregarded instructions.  Meetings with parents and administration didn’t help much, mostly it just made them resent me more.  Beyond those two boys there were other difficult students who I think I would have been able to bring around if I hadn’t been using all my energy dealing with the two boys I mentioned.  The classroom community aspect never really got there. Class was rarely fun, but we got through it.

In my other 7th grade class things were better, mostly normal levels of normal middle school behavior with a bit more sense of classroom camaraderie.  However, in February my teaching schedule had to change to accommodate a NY State physical education requirement that my school had not been in compliance with.   With that second class, instead of seeing them five days a week, I only saw them Monday through Wednesday and they went to gym on Thursday and Friday.   This threw us all off and made for a disjointed second semester. Even though nothing really bad happened in that class, something was off. 

Me: I think what was off was that w the schedule change the kids were sent a strong message that the class didn’t count much. 

I now have last year’s 7th graders as 8th graders.  Maybe they could sense my fear and uncertainty going into this school year.  Maybe they are just feeling too cool for school since they are now “seniors”.  

Me: No, they sense your fear. But we can change it. I speak from experience.

Maybe they are “smelling themselves” as my colleague calls it.  I don’t know.  I just feel lost at how to do CI with this group that doesn’t want to engage.

Me: I strongly suggest to do what I told Greg today. One full month of grammar. They need to feel what that feels like. 

The good news is that the programming office was able to separate those two difficult boys, so I have them in separate classes.  For that I am grateful.  However, one of the classes is still rife with toxicity between students, led by one of the difficult boys – name calling, explosive laughter or calling out over me.

Me: This may be addressed in the Pigs series of posts (search bar) that I mentioned to Greg today, but I may have since changed my thinking. THIS is what we have to get to. THIS is the problem. You are being enveloped by dark energy, and it is in my view not very hard to fix. You have to change your core perception of what is going on. You have to RECOGNIZE the toxicity and DROP EVERYTHING and address it, hence the grammar. Whenever they complain about the worksheets, give them some version of this: ” I’m sorry guys but when I tried to do the French talking thing I couldn’t. What do you expect me to do. Now for the next worksheet….”. Little comments like this will bring the decent kids back to your side and they will resent the little kid who is keeping them from hearing French.  

In the other class things are less bad, but there is certainly a weird feeling in the class.  No joy, no enthusiasm.  They don’t want to do the cute “ooooo where?” and “maaaaaais” and other word cues from last year.  They don’t want to talk about what they did over the weekend.  They don’t want to ask each other questions. 

Maybe I should have picked a different first activity of the year.  I started by giving each student a small container of playdough and had them sculpt something that represented them.  Then we talked about a few of them and I took pictures of the rest to talk about for the rest of the week.  It was my way of doing card talk without cards, since I did circling with balls with them last year.  Talking to them was like pulling teeth. In the difficult class I barely got to talk because I was constantly walking over to the rules or kneeling down to address specific student behavior.  In the other class I had to do less behavior correction, but I mostly felt like I was talking to myself.  

Me: Yes the dough sounded like a good idea but it was too easy for them and they felt like you were treating them like elementary kids. It opened up a hole in your management there at the critical start of the year. OWI would be best. Have you done any of those yet? As per this book:

I have always struggled with how to start 8th grade.  I feel really good at 7th grade.  
Me: Yes it is not the easiest grade.

I have gotten better at going slow and pointing and gesturing.  There is something magical about sitting in your first day of a language class and being able to understand.  I feel like I can cast that spell on the 7th graders in the first few weeks.  But starting the 8th grade is harder.  Students are now at different levels of proficiency, the magic isn’t there in the same way, and the personalities are out in the open, not hidden.  They know me, they know each other, or at least they think they do. Do you have any advice for me?  

Me: My advice is always to go to reading. My 21 reading options just eat up all kinds of time. they are in the attached book – no charge. Reading is a way to eliminate the oppositional defiance and get them to shut up. It must be independent reading of a text you created, in may opinion. Tina agrees. Out w the stupid class readings of the novels. = Bullshit. Instead, start every class w 10 of SSR and just extend it on any ornery class. Hell make them read silently the entire period. You can justify that bc the research shows that reading is the best way to learn a for. Later. See the thing I remember about you Carly and I do remember those tears w respect bc I knew what was happening there and it WAS big. My thing that I remember is a person of rare kindness and heart quality. You are perhaps too kind and what this communication MIGHT be about is getting you to get a bitchy edge going on in class. I can help you match the activity with that, so you can grow your bitchy edge, and those activities would be NOT about the auditory part of the CI ball but the other half, the reading part. Of course in  my books (other one attached too) there are other things you can do. But that is my general suggestion here. 

Any activity I should try or approach I should use?  I was thinking that if they don’t want to talk about themselves, let’s jump in with OWI, let’s get the invisibles started, but I am nervous because we haven’t built that trusting community.  What if we don’t build it?  How will I get through 10 months with this group?

Here’s how: You will be doing OWI with other classes. The 7th graders should have fun with them, but 6th graders are the best of course. The 8th graders, every time they come into the classroom, will see in the Gallery (see A Natural Approach to Stories for more) and want to make some images. You say no. More worksheets. When they complain, you give them the heartfelt speech that you just plain don’t feel comfortable doing auditory work with them. Tell them not to take it personally, it’s just the way it is. Even up up a label at the top of the gallery so they can see that their class pd. has no images and no artists. Then, and this is a huge – the biggest – part of my answer to you, get the jobs going. I am certain that once you do the non-targeted thing that represents the biggest pedagogical change of my career by far, once the Gallery is up and the jobs are working in all the other classes, and that class is still in worksheets (diapers) word will get out and you will see a new attitude for sure. 

I didn’t go to any trainings this summer, and now I am kicking myself for it.  But I am a regular reader of your blog and the CILiftoff page on facebook, and I hope there is something I can grab onto to work with this group.  If you have any advice, I would love to hear it.  

Thanks for reading my long and rambling email, thanks for keeping the PLC and for posting all the thoughtful content and for providing a space for teachers to gather.  It truly is a gift.

Me: This stuff needs to be shared bc you are definitely one of about a million such teachers right now going through this. No hyperbole here.  

My direct supervisor actually really likes that I use CI and I wonder if I will get push back from her if I switch to handouts and textbook work.

Me: No you shouldn’t be concerned if you switch. If they bring it up and they won’t, just tell them it is temporary as you need to make them appreciate your CI instruction more, until they are ready. tell the admins that not all classes can do this kind of rigorous work and then attach Robert Harrell’s Primer article at the top of the PLC page to further school them.

I’m also worried about my ability to handle classroom management if we are doing grammar. Will I be able to actually make them do it. Will they smell my fear again?

Me: Not if you act like a robot and at the slightest fear of insurrection all you need to do is give an INSTANT TEST ON THE LAST COMPLETED GRAMMAR UNIT. Have it ready.




15 thoughts on “Greg’s Question Version 2.0”

  1. My last period of the day has been rather funky this year, and has had some issues with being respectful of each other and myself, so they are definitely getting more reading, and grammar so that they can be more appreciative, or at least it gives me some easy (though a bit boring) teaching to do. Last Friday I had it, so I went into my alternative plan (I’ve found it very useful):

    Calm/Slow down a class:
    1. Optional: Start with an image, drawing, or text
    2. Dictée & correct
    3. Translate Dictée
    4. Grammar
    5. Read From Back (ask ?s)
    6. Reader’s Theatre
    7. T/F Quiz on dictée
    8. Free Write
    9. Illustrate Free Write or Dictée
    • Game/Activity
    • Song
    • Translate from English to French or vice versa

  2. I’m new to this and am only going through things for the first time. I’m finding that one of my Gr. 7 classes just can’t handle the stories – it’s painful for me and them. So, I told them today that we’re going back to OWIs and that we’ll try stories again when they’re ready. They loved the OWIs so we’ll do it again.

    I wish I could offer advice, but I’ll be following this carefully. I think you’ve gotten good advice

    1. Dana I get that. I was in that classroom, or the one next to it. I get those kids. Love your reaction. Don’t force stories. You can create and make up readings about the one word images all week. And with each new image you have more vocabulary for the word chunk team game and for dictee. Keep us posted. I am so glad you came to Philly this summer. I know that was a big trip for you just ahead of your trip to India, but being able to put a face with a name is really going to help us in our communication and support of each other as we go along through the year. How’s the air there? Is there any in New Delhi these days? Maybe a little? Seen any elephants in the street next to the school? Have they finished the British School White Castle?

      1. You know, I was so surprised at how I handled it. Rather than being irritated and disappointed, I was super calm and explained that obviously they weren’t ready for stories yet. I told them that we’d go back to OWIs and they weren’t disappointed. I approached it from a place of love and I hope that’s what they saw.

        I’m really thankful that I was able to come and meet you and Tina. Not only did your training help me so much, but being able to talk to you specifically about things here has been so helpful. I’m eternally grateful that you are so generous with your time.

        The air isn’t too bad yet, but I’ve noticed a decline in it in the last couple of weeks. It’ll definitely get worse in the next month after Diwali! I haven’t seen any elephants here, just lots of cows and street dogs!

        Is there any what in New Delhi? And with the British School, were they building a new one? We see a huge white building from our balcony. Looks pretty fancy. 🙂 Which apartment were you in?

  3. My first reaction to this discussion is one hoping that Carly doesn’t think she needs to create more engaging or funner activities for the kids to do. The most engaging activity we can do with our students is create stories with them. I say make the time go by painfully until they are ready to do stories with you. And know, deep down, that making them painfully suck in and swallow their negativity will help them mature and be better people.

    You have a lot going for you, especially with your admin liking your CI. Being so, you have a lot of power to make things painful for students who need a dosage of humility.

    I’ve been in very difficult classroom settings. I wasn’t able to turn all off them around. But you have some presence and power in your school to turn your funky 8th graders around. Perhaps it truly is one or two kids that are bringing the rest down. Could you also try sending those one or two kids off to a buddy room to do worksheets? It could be real nice for the rest of the class to experience what it’s like to not have that kid in the room for a day or two. Or, do you pull the kid out into the hallway to have a come-to-Jesus chat with them? Pulling the kids to the hallway, though it takes up class time, sends a message to everyone how serious you consider the behavior infractions.

    1. I’ve not done this in 15 years – made an order. But if I can do it without seeming rude, I would urge all of us to read the first two sentences of Sean’s comment between 77 and 100 times over and over. There is layer upon layer of deep truth in there.

    2. I also resonate deeply with this from Sean:

      …it could be real nice for the rest of the class to experience what it’s like to not have that kid in the room for a day or two….

      However, I don’t pull kids out. In my experience that hallway discussion merely provokes a reaction of resentment and lying to your face that they will change. We all do it differently.

      1. I hear you about pulling kids out. But when they’re out in the hallway with me I see it as more of a chance for them to hear me out. They have to hear me out, fully, with what I hope and expect and believe in them. Take it or leave it. But my message will be consistent and persistent.

        Granted, this strategy is what I’ve used when there is no body else inside or outside the building that can help me with the child.

        But yeah, I’m so done with wasting my time throwing together “fun” activities that usually end up getting kids no where. I’m more interested in finding ways to talk to kids in the L2 at greater length and creating stories is the answer.

        1. I agree. You can really talk openly in the hallway, more than in the classroom. But dang those kids can look right at us and agree and then never change a thing in their behavior.

          Totally agree on this:

          … I’m more interested in finding ways to talk to kids in the L2 at greater length and creating stories is the answer….

          It’s almost like once we’ve see stories, everything pales by comparison. Activities? What activities? They’re boring. And now there are all these TPRS activities out there. What happened? (I define an activity as a way to teach something connected to a curriculum and a strategy as as way to generate lots of non-targeted CI.)

  4. So the class in question is back to being jerks. This time it was not one kid that I really could get someone on, just generalized being jerks. I am going to the grammar book.

    My question is, how to I transition OUT of the grammar teaching and back into CI. Do I wait for the kids to beg for it and for there to be a turn-around?

    What if they ask he HOW LONG we will be doing this?

    I just want to know exactly what to say.

  5. I am very strict on this point, more than others. Once a class goes to grammar instruction, they stay there for at least a month. Or all year if they don’t get the message. Some teachers think that is too harsh and to give them another chance. Why? They have proven that they are going to be the one group this year that won’t do as you ask. That’s enough proof for me. What if you took them into grammar all year? I wouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over it. Is it the same class that you showed video on earlier this year?

  6. No, the class that I showed on video was my Spanish 1 class which is still going well. All of my classes are going pretty decently except this one.

  7. The thing that gets me is that the other class has kids which are known for being school-wide trouble makers but they have bought into the OWI/Invisibles, CI.

    By the way, both of those classes (Spanish 2 Studies) are kids who the other teachers just won’t teach.

    That’s what we get for tracking kids and putting all of the difficult kids in one class.

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