Little Lead Pipes

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38 thoughts on “Little Lead Pipes”

  1. I just had a talk with a little lead pipe wielder yesterday after class because she had her head down, sulky, etc. We decided that she should always have a job during story telling to keep her more engaged and she seemed content with that.
    I do have trouble reacting to the little lead pipes because I totally react to them differently depending on how I’m feeling. I’d love to hear others’ responses to this. I know that the English only rule helps, but during transition times is when these lead pipes can arise for me. I haven’t yet figured out how to stick to L2 during transition time.

    1. L2 during transition: if you know what you’ll be doing at the end of the transition, you can write it on the board in two languages. Sometimes I circle it slightly. “Now we are going to read.” OHHH. “Are we going to read or are we going to dig potatoes?” etc. Then we sing a song while we pass out booklets or move into groups of three or change the seats so that we can all see the SmartBoard.

      Often, I admit, I don’t know exactly what we’re doing next, so there’s no way it’s on the board in the right order, if at all. But I can still have them stand and sing something, and then we pause, I tell them, and we start moving.

      Sometimes they protest that they can’t do two things at once. You can imagine how much fun I have with that one in this generation of “I can listen to my iPod in English while writing in Russian.”

      But typically they just sing as we move. It’s an old pre-school trick. What I really want is a clean-up song in Russian.

  2. OMG, this is sooooooooo freaky (the fact, that you always seem to be reading my thoughts). This is exactly what has occupied my mind ever since we started this whole EERP discussion. Those little lead pipes, I hear them make their little squeaky noises every single day (I’m bored, what are we doing, why are we doing this, this is so stupid). All I can think of is that I must be doing it all wrong because they are not all brimming with enthusiasm. I also thought that this surely doesn’t qualify for lead hammer behavior and justify the steps from the EERP document.
    However, these behaviors are grating nonetheless – maybe even more so, because it is all so under-handed. Anyway, these behaviors are displayed by all (well, not all, but many) of the students who were superstars last year, when I still taught the way I thought I was supposed to teach and thus appealed to nobody but our “beloved” 4%ers.
    I so want to respond to them right then and there in a way that shoots them down but I don’t because
    1. it takes away from valuable CI-time and
    2. because it would give them an audience for their lousy behavior.
    Usually, I just ignore them and hope that they get it. Which they don’t. Because the whining is still going on.
    Maybe this is the time that I should bring out the grammar packets for those particular kids?
    I know we all have different needs and struggles. Some have more severe behavioral issues to deal with (where the EERP is clearly needed), for me it’s really mostly the subtle squeakers.

    1. Yes, and the eye-rollers. I think Laurie has a strategy of stopping everything, but I am not clear on whether this was for all pipers or just the big pipers. I am interested in others’ ideas. I don’t have anything that works. I guess I do just stop and stare.

      1. At the beginning of the year we go over our 4 Rules and Responsibilities.

        I spend precious little time on the first three. It is the fourth one that matters: (here is how I update it with the students…..)

        You have a right to be treated as an individual who interesting, intelligent, capable, and important.

        You have a responsibility to treat others the same way (regardless of what you actually think of them).

        Then I model behaviors that are not appropriate. This is done with a little bit of humor, but with all seriousness. I may model several or all of the below:

        heavy sighs
        the “yeah right” look
        I go over to a student and say “hey, this is my seat, get out”
        I go to another and say, “hey, I saved this for so and so”
        I snort in derision
        I point to someone else, whisper to a student and giggle
        I sit in an empty desk, then edge it away from the kid next to me like I don’t want to be that close to him/her
        I walk up to a student and say “Nice” in that half-sarcastic backhanded insulting manner that they pull off so beautifully

        I try to mimic behaviors that I may have seen them use in the first two days.

        I point out that these are BIG HUGE UGLY messages. I see them, I hear them, and I will not allow them to continue in my classroom.

        The other thing is that students change so much during a school year that the students that we have in September are just completely different people a few months later….so sometimes I have to have a little review of the unacceptable behavior through out the year.

        This allows me, when I ask a student to speak with me in the hall, I CAN point out one of those not-so-subtle lead pipes as a problem . Yeah…that little “whatever” comment IS out of bounds in my room. Yeah….I saw the eye-rolling and IN MY ROOM it isn’t allowed…so work on that please.

        Hope that helps some…
        with love,

        1. Beautiful, Laurie. This brings back memories of a student I’ll always remember because I was totally obsessed with her negative feelings. I dreaded going to that class because of her hostile attitude. She had been a good 4%er student with a colleague, loved English but spoke it with an accent so thick it was almost like she was imitating the worst French accent possible. I worked on phonetics (yeah, I know -this was before I’d heard of TPRS) had an English friend with drama training come in and work with them, and did everything I could think of to improve their accents, and it seemed to help everyone but her. She pouted, rolled her eyes, tried to start up conversations and was a general pain in the B all year long. I think part of the problem was that I wasn’t as admiring of her abilities as her former teacher had been and there were other kids in the class who were enjoying it and doing better than she was. Anyway, towards the end of the year I decided not to worry about her accent. Although I was preparing them for an oral baccalaureate exam and she’d lose some points there, she was a pretty girl when she smiled and I knew that in the States or England the guys would adore her accent. Well, the following September she was back and I noticed that her attitude seemed to have changed. She actually raised her hand and participated from time to time. I was content that she no longer treated me with disdain and acted like a normal student, but I was stunned one day when she stayed behind after class and actually apologized for having been so unpleasant the year before. Her explanation? She told me that she felt she’d grown up a bit.

  3. Robert Harrell

    The “I’m tired” comment is easy to deal with among students. If a student isn’t working or is slumped down or otherwise indicates he is tired, I say, “If you are too tired to participate in the class, you are too tired to be in school. Here’s a pass to the nurse.” Most often the student is no longer that tired, but sometimes will take me up on the offer. Today “grape soda boy” was doing this and went to the nurse. I called the office to let them know he was on his way and should remain sitting on the bench in the office. If he wasn’t going to participate, he might as well not participate in the office rather than not participate in the classroom where he has an audience. And this is all done in the name of looking out for his physical health.

    The other comments are harder to deal with and put the teacher in a no-win situation. If you get into a contest with a student you will always lose. I once read an interesting article about the dynamics of this. If the student is any sort of leader in the group, he holds all the cards. Should the teacher win the skirmish, he is seen as “mean” and dictatorial. Should the teacher fail to address the issue or lose the skirmish, he is viewed as weak and ineffectual. Obviously the best approach is to get the key students on your side, but this is not always possible.

  4. I was thinking about how to deal with the math teacher. I’m sure I would never have thought of this in time in that situation, but I’ve read this twice now, and suddenly came up with the idea of saying, “Thank you! This happens in class with me sometimes too!” and, looking out over the group, “What do you all do when kids are rude?”

    It’s not like it would have helped your presentation, but if acted sincerely, might have actually worked to send a message.

    I agree with Robert though…no contests with students are good. The quick response to classroom bullying is critical, just as we’ve been saying.

      1. I will definitely play this card when next needed. Thank you Michele. Come on Drew, we can do it next time we present to adults on this stuff if we get the chance. The fact is it’s rude whether from a kid or adult. The math teacher basically said, “I think this stuff sucks and everybody look at me and see how clever I am.” Well we all looked at her but we didn’t agree with her bc we were having fun in the language. It’s one thing from a kid and quite another from a professional colleague. We need to stand up to it, confront it, just as we will do in our classrooms with all the darling little lead pipers in the classroom this week, right? What is our solution for that, by the way? Are we going with a document? I guess not, but I would like something to refer my right brain self to.

  5. Yes but what about the little lead pipers? Should we try to draft something for them? Honestly, they must not be allowed to bring their passive aggressive energy into our classrooms. We are only human and those little pipers are worse than the big pipers. Should we try to make a plan like EERP for them? On an intuitive level I say no, but what else are we to do? I kind of feel that I personally would benefit from a machine like response, if the creation of such is possible, to the little pipers too.

    It is a fact that the biggest lie ever perpretated on an unsuspecting national teacher corps is that TPRS kids are always up, in a good mood and having fun. The worst thing about that is that newer teachers buy that idea, and then fault themselves when, after a period of time learning the method, their classes aren’t brimming over with peace and joy and flowery wonderfulness. This is not true. Kids are confused, they are sad, they are testing us all the time, and, TPRS/CI or not, that will continue.

    If we can’t stand the heat then we need to get out of the kitchen. I’m not saying that TPRS/CI is not great – it is. However, we cannot buy into the “every day is a party” mentality and, if we just get good enough at the method, we will unlock the door to continuous teaching joy thanks to Blaine Ray. That’s a load of hooey. It puts insane stress on us. There is no one correct way to do CI, to echo what Haiyun said here today. “If I just do it right then everything will be fine” is not true. Deep breath on that one, right?

    1. It is a fact that the biggest lie ever perpretated on an unsuspecting national teacher corps is that TPRS kids are always up, in a good mood and having fun.

      It isn’t just TPRS that perpetrates this lie. I have heard it in one form another for textbooks series, technology, various strategies (GRR, Thinking Maps, Cornell Notes, Interactive Notebooks, etc.), certain class management tools and any number of other things out there. The presenters don’t necessarily come right out and say it (though sometimes they do), but the implication is that by using this one “magic bullet”, instruction will be fascinating and not only will students learn, but all discipline problems will be solved. Then we hit the nitty gritty of day-to-day instruction with students whose parents are getting a divorce, whose mother has just been diagnosed with cancer, whose grandfather just died, who just broke up with a girlfriend/boyfriend, who are being bullied, who have to miss school so they can care for younger siblings, who are working after school to help the family stay afloat, who are being abused – and who are simply dedicated to bringing down every teacher they encounter. And we wonder why this wondrous “thing” didn’t work. But we have internalized the lie, so it must be our fault because we are lousy teachers.

      It’s easy to take a lesson or a couple of lessons, hone them and then present at conferences to teachers who are eager to learn. And I’m not saying we don’t need that. We do need to see what the Holy Grail looks like so we can strive to attain it. But we also need to realize that the Grail is not visible all the time every day. It comes to us in moments of grace – and often outside of our striving for it. It is a gift, but one that we have to prepare for. That’s the paradox. Perhaps farming is an apt analogy. We have to prepare the ground, we have to plant the seed, we have to water – but the blossoming and growing are a mystery that might not happen despite our best efforts, and sometimes happen despite serious deficiencies all around.

      One of the most refreshing experiences I have had was going to observe a couple of teachers whom I admire and who are among the best I know. I spent the day with them and saw the same kinds of behavior in their classes that I see in mine – despite compelling lessons and teacher engagement. This is why I think iFLT is going to be killer in Colorado this summer. While the classroom demonstrations probably won’t fully realize the school experience – these are, after all, students who are volunteering for this – it will come far closer to anything else that anyone has done. You’ll be dealing with students, not teachers. The students will still bring in all their baggage. They will still have limited attention spans. They will have fewer inhibitions about expressing boredom, lack of interest, etc.

      Have a great weekend, everyone. I have two more weeks before spring break – but I’ll be taking two days off to go to SWCOLT – I signed up for Brian Barabe’s workshop on Imbedded Reading. Anyone else going?

      1. Great observations on what “real” classrooms are like as contrasted with those “honed” seminar lessons. I hate the “magic bullets” that are foisted on us with such great expectations. No wonder new TPRS teachers give up too soon–they thought CI instruction would solve everything and when it doesn’t, they go back to less-personal, less-interactive ways of teaching.

        I’ve felt better, too, when I see kids acting bored in classes where the teacher is doing everything right. “Maybe it’s not me, after all”

      2. I just have to share this anecdote. Sometimes students really rely on us to follow through.

        Today in sixth period, one of my students was obviously texting – it was extremely blatant. I walked over and held out my hand. He handed me the phone and said, “Thank you!” He is in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend, and she keeps texting him. Just in the time I had the phone in my hand, he got three texts (the phone vibrated). He didn’t want to answer the phone but was relying on me to give him an “out”. Later he went to the bathroom and saw his soon-t0-be-former girlfriend (who doesn’t have a sixth period). She asked him why he hadn’t answered, and he was relieved to be able to tell her “Herr Harrell took my phone away from me. I couldn’t answer.” Since he also has a three-minute limit on bathroom breaks*, he had to hurry back so couldn’t stay and talk (also a relief). My student explained all of this to me after school when he stayed to get the phone back.

        *My classroom policy for going to the bathroom during the period.

      3. Seriously?!! you are going?!! yeeee hawww! We’ll all be having a party!! But, I’m sorry to say that there was not sufficient sign up for our Preconference Embedded Reading presentation. But…we will be doing TWO one hour presentations, one on Friday and one on Saturday. It’s VERY hard to do in an hour, but, we will be able to reach a larger audience….so encourage strangers to attend lol!!!!!!

        with love,

        1. Robert Harrell

          But, I’m sorry to say that there was not sufficient sign up for our Preconference Embedded Reading presentation.

          That’s interesting, because SWCOLT took my payment and confirmed the workshop in an e-mail that they sent yesterday – oh wait, was that an April Fool joke?

          I’ve already made my reservations and arrive at PHX about 2:00 pm, so if the workshop has truly been cancelled, we can hang out.

          1. Sorry, Laurie, I misread the e-mail. They put me into an afternoon workshop, so I had to write back and ask them to put me in Carol Gaab’s workshop or refund my fee. I’m not arriving until 1:50, so a workshop that starts at 1:00 won’t be very profitable, will it?

  6. Annemarie Orth

    Yes, good reminder. My most recent goal is to still have 10% of my energy in a day left after teaching so that I have energy for my family. And being ok with not having every class amazing and funny is another goal.

  7. Stream of consciousness thoughts on the whole grading issue: since we can’t really “grade” students’ processing /acquisition speed, what if we did just grade their interpersonal skills? As in, their whole grade for the class is based on the Rules chart and the metacognitive chart, like Ben mentioned? Is that what you mean Ben? It seems like if this piece were functioning, the “content” grades (quick quiz, translation, dictee, etc) would naturally be high. I am sure I’m missing something, but…? I admit I tend to oversimplify.

    I always have trouble equating our A-F system to what we are trying to do. Definitely the three modes system, as per Robert comes the closest, but is there anyone out there who actually uses the ACTFL standards as assessments in themselves. As in “student x is at this level,” without an A-F grade (judgement) attached to it? I don’t really get how to merge these 2 systems. Isn’t acquisition a subconscious process? Then how can we predict or determine whether student x will go from novice low to novice mid in a quarter or trimester or semester or 2 years???

    This is kind of off topic, but maybe not. If we still have to use A-F, then what would happen if the A-F represented the human interpersonal component? Would it backfire? Would kids be “motivated” to get a good grade and thus rise to the occasion. (Not ideal, still a form of external motivation, but???) Would it just be bogus? I am sincerely confused, recognizing, of course that my whole line of questioning arose from the discussion about the little stealth snarky lead pipes so there is definitely an undercurrent of “ok fine, then hit them with the grade,” so maybe that is also a form of my own passive agressive violence? Gah! Help!

    1. …isn’t acquisition a subconscious process?….

      Yes, and for us to label and attempt to measure that process with conscious indicators is just stupid. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes so many hours of doing something to gain mastery of anything. He doesn’t say that it takes so many hours of talking about doing something to gain that mastery, as per Laurie below:

      …f they are comprehending, they are acquiring. The more loaded down they are with academic struggles….the longer that will take….

      I think that by “academic struggles” Laurie is referring to the mental, analytical, conscious efforts that teachers make kids do in a doomed attempt to pull the language acquisition process into the conscious mind. We can’t do that anymore than we can pull rocks up from deep beneath the earth with a spoon. That’s not how it works.

      The domain of language acquisition is the unconscious mind. This is it. It is all so simple. You do something long enough, letting the natural unconscious process of language acquisition unfold under the guidance of a wiring system so detailed and sophisticated that no human could have ever designed it and no human should ever mess with.

      It does its thing below the surface while all we as instructors have to do is provide the sound/reading tracks and make it a pleasant experience for the kids, and the thing is finally done over 10,000 hours and the kid can then start on another language or learn how to play the cello or whatever because the acquisition will be done for that language.

      We don’t see progress after four years of conscious study because over that time we have been using lots and lots of L1, and maybe the kids have heard 300 hours tops, and so are 300/10,000 (3%) on their way to the goal, and we all freak out because we want it all to go faster so we can measure it, because we like to measure things.

      In that sense, we are all like little babies about this stuff. Why are we like little babies? Because we claim to be language teachers, but, if we haven’t been using comprehensible input over the years of our careers then we have NOT been language teachers, but merely “deliverers of instructional services” (Ted Sizer’s term) and we have not been teaching languages at all, just running around the room measuring things and using English, then we blame our students and not ourselves for their lack of growth.

      For more on how Ted Sizer’s own initiative to bring change to education with his Essential Schools movement has failed in the area of language acquisition, and to reflect on the how the language teachers in those schools have completely dropped the ball and now are truly mere “deliverers of instructional services”, going against his “common principles” in a truly hypocritical way, see this link and others like it:

      So what have grades got to do with all of it? Nothing. So Robert is right to suggest that we look at this in another light, as you describe above jen, and we just need to do it. We need to provide the CI and quit worrying about the rest. We provide the CI and then acquire. How simple is that? If grading measures things on a conscious scale, but the action is going on beneath the surface, on an unconscious scale, then what is going on in our schools?

      Search the word FLOW for more on this topic, or the word UNCONSCIOUS.

      1. … in a doomed attempt to pull the language acquisition process into the conscious mind. We can’t do that anymore than we can pull rocks up from deep beneath the earth with a spoon….

        Even if we could get the rocks up to the surface, where we could polish them and look at them and name them and talk about them, they would be up on the surface. It’s like taking a watch apart and laying all its parts out on a table and asking it to still tell the time. We can no longer mess with the process, and yet we still do.

  8. I don’t know if there is room for humor or light “heartedness” here but this week I overheard a student complaining to a friend about being bothered by a boy who “wouldn’t leave her alone.” This is a focus at our school now so I approached her and asked for details. I asked her what he was doing to bother her. She said “He is being nice to me but he knows that I don’t like that” Even she realized how funny this was and began to laugh….

    Maybe at some point we can dedicate a thread to all of the wonderful experiences that working with kiddos has afforded us…. We need no reminders of how difficult (impossible at times) it is….if even the angels couldn’t do it:)


  9. The minute that we start being upset that things are not going “as expected” in our classes we need to train ourselves to pay attention. Bells!!!!!!!!!!! Whistles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Flashing lights!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    Because that is the moment that we have stopped thinking about the kids and have started thinking about ourselves.

    If it feels like it isn’t working we have to step back for a look. What criteria are we using to make that determination?

    Teenagers are rebellious. They are grumpy, complaining, tired, fractious, changeable and dealing with mountains of issues. That is a given…not a bad day!!!!!!!!

    They also are notorious for thinking/feeling one thing and projecting another.

    Evaluate the evidence, not the attitude. Whining, complaining, facial expressions aside…..are they comprehending?

    If they are comprehending, they are acquiring. You WILL see evidence of that, maybe just not at this moment. The more loaded down they are with academic struggles, a need for processing time, or life’s burdens, the longer that will take. Believe it or not, April and May are often the months of greatest VISIBLE achievement. Prior to that, all the good stuff is happening below the surface.

    EVEN THE BEST C I TEACHERS I KNOW have students who look as if they could care less. That is what students do.

    We need to train ourselves (and support each other in the process) to evaluate ourselves based on a different set of criteria. One that does not include “how much the students like……”

    Yes, engagement is key. But engagement by real, actual students….not the ones we imagine.

    with love,

    1. Laurie, Thanks again for that nugget….

      You say We need to train ourselves (and support each other in the process) to evaluate ourselves based on a different set of criteria. One that does not include “how much the students like……”

      I think it would be helpful to mention some of those things specifically…
      If my class looks bored and is not engaged, what indicators would be used to evaluate my effectiveness?

      1. I think that the bored, unengaged look is in fact indication that we are not going slowly enough, primarily, nor are we circling enough. The usual culprits. We need to hone our abilitites to tell the difference between acquisition and no acquisition based on the looks on their faces. No small task. But all we really need to do is go slowly enough, circle enough, get hundreds of reps more than we think they need (they need them!) always personalizing the discussion, and not using English at all. Then we are doing our job properl. We may not be earning stand up comic status under our own fierce self-scrutiny (we are our worst critics, right?), but the comedy thing matters far less than most people new to TPRS/CI think.

        1. My dear Ben,
          If you can figure out how to determine engagement from the looks on their faces, we will call you the Teen Whisperer.

          with love,

          1. Robert Harrell

            Aso has to do with the size of the pupil.

            I’m not so sure about that last statement. I have had both large pupils and small pupils show engagement in class – and show non-engagement. Some of them are just built bigger than others.


            Seriously, though, I read a study many years ago that indicated our eyes dilate when we are interested in what we are looking at – so there is a physiological basis for Ben’s comment. Also, apparently for the metaphor of “drinking it in” with our eyes. Hm, there’s a new image – if we are offering water in a barren landscape, then we want our students to drink it in. Unfortunately, some of our students have been there for so long that they continue to eat dirt, thinking it is water. Sometimes they remind me of the dwarves at the end of The Last Battle as they sit in the stable believing that the feast set before them is hay and rotting food because they refuse to be “taken in” – and so they can not be taken out.

    2. Laurie, thanks for this needed reminder. I think because I am on break this week, I am forgetting my students as real people, the people with personalities that I’ve come to get to know this year. I’ve been focusing on my teaching instead of focusing on them. And you are absolutely right about the good stuff starting to come to the surface this time of year. I have been absolutely amazed by these grammar-trained kids who are finally reading books or listening to music or Spanish TV and conversations and are starting to feel good about themselves because it is getting easier to comprehend. So–that’s something positive about these last couple of months. I might be ready for Monday after all…well, maybe I’m ready for Tuesday…

    3. So true, oh wise one!

      I particularly appreciate this reminder:
      “Teenagers are rebellious. They are grumpy, complaining, tired, fractious, changeable and dealing with mountains of issues. That is a given…not a bad day!!!!!!!!”

      Yup. Sometimes I forget this! Thank you for the little wake up jolt 🙂

  10. Ah, Laurie, you are always so wise. I really needed a reminder of the point that we need to go where the kids are, and that some of them are just not going to look interested ever. I have that rule, “Pretend to be interested,” but at this point in the year, kids are exhausted and don’t want to try to look perky. One mom just wrote me this morning that her son, the state winner in last week’s science fair, was too tired to celebrate his birthday because he has the state spelling bee today, five papers due next week, and now I’m asking him to consider going to an international Russian conference. He’s one of my best kids, but he’s been acting wacko. Meanwhile, a different mom just wrote, saying that she is taking in yet another of my kids because she didn’t realize his dad hadn’t let him come home to sleep all year. He’s been allowed to store his things at the house, but he can’t stay there. Here he’s the polite kid in the room, but he has been coming to class late and falling asleep.

    So both of those kids are asleep or bleary-eyed for very different reasons, and no great teaching is going to change the way they look, act or feel. But I can reach out and connect with them, all of them, whether the disasters are real or expanded by teen-think.

  11. I appreciated Laurie’s reminder that when we feel something is out of whack with a kid’s response we take a step back. It isn’t about us or our delivery usually. As Michele points out, two kids can have a similar response for very different reasons and none of it has anything to do with us. Q-TIP is in order.
    We often just need to Quit Taking It Personally.

    Sometimes little lead pipes are being tossed our way. How we address them has to do with how we feel at the time. It doesn’t matter if it is a colleague or a student. We feel threatened in the safety of the classroom community we think we’ve built.

    One of the things that is going to happen in the next 2 months as we move towards summer is that kids are really going to act out. This acting out may be very much about leaving the security and relationships they have built in our classrooms this year as we’ve struggled to be HUMAN together.

    Humans generally don’t like change and we all know a big one is coming. So, we all act a little differently than we would have in Oct. or Feb. Yes we are different people than then, but change is afoot.

    Plan for the closing of school with the same care you’ve planned for the beginning. Make ritual, celebrate daily, affirm greatness and brillance in every one of them. And help them transition to fly solo from the language nest this summer.

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