Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson has said that, as he grew up, there were a lot of people who “shot down my dreams”.  How many dreams of young kids of color to succeed at foreign languages have been dashed by worksheet coma teachers?
Such teachers would be quick to attribute their racially imbalanced AP classes to the sloth of the individual kid, when we know how untrue that is – that in fact the Achievement Gap is a complex social phenonemon that many teachers just don’t want to bother with.
Their “let the cream rise to the top” mantra cares not that the cream is mostly always white. For insights into how TPRS can put a major dent in the Achievement Gap, do a search on the term on this site.
We can’t let this topic slide under the radar. It’s time to get active on this one. All kids can’t become pro basketball players like Magic. Some of them may potentially find their strength in languages.
The fact that there are so many white teachers holding jobs in foreign language education, proportionately, is just one of the results of the Achievement Gap. Let us not be the ones who shoot down the dreams of kids of color to become teachers.
We keep those kids through four levels by using Krashen-based methods. The chances that we help such kids are directly related to our embracing non-worksheet methods. This is not what opponents of TPRS want to hear, but I will defend that statement with vigor.



3 thoughts on “Magic Johnson”

  1. Ben,
    Yesterday a colleague passed by my room and commented later, “It looked like so much fun. I heard kids laughing and saw their faces, engaged and smiling. That must be so enjoyable…”
    That colleague is absolutely correct. They were engaged, they were learning a great deal, and they having fun. What that teacher doesn’t know is that TPRS made it that way, something I could NEVER have achieved doing worksheets…Why?
    What that colleague didn’t know about that class: several of the students hate school. One boy is now back with me after missing almost a month. He was supposed to be transferring to another school. I asked how that went: “Not good. I got suspended the first day….I told the principal to go…” He didn’t need to finish the sentence. During that class he was grinning from ear to ear, and on duty in the morning he always says when passing by, “Guten Morgen, Herr Walker”. Besides, he is smart, which I tell him.
    Another boy in that class was in another FL class last year with a female teacher. She was frightened of him, thought he was menacing. I wondered myself. However, he is intelligent, insightful, and in that class yesterday, smiling from ear to ear.
    One of the two boys who always says, “I hate school and wish I could drop out”, volunteers for every story. Literally, EVERY story. Yesterday, he was “Bob the fish” ( a Robert Williams story-German). The funny part is: He isn’t always a great actor, but because of that, the stories are funny. For instance, I said, “Bob likes to swim”. The boy stood there. I look over, now the class is laughing. He is standing there. So I said (in German) “Bob, you are swimming” So the boy swims. Actually, because he is a “monkey”, it made it all funnier, and we had a great time with the story.
    We TPRSers level the playing field. Anne Matava has this same situation: We live in poor counties where more then half the school qualifies for free or reduced lunch. So, for many of those kids, thinking at first about going to Europe is like many of us thinking about going to the moon. Many of those kids haven’t been to our capital city forty-five minutes south of us. Yet, in our classrooms, through comprehensible input, we include every kid—they gets to be a “good” student because they understand. As I remind them, if they are laughing when we do stories, how can you say, “I hate school?”
    As they create stories, isn’t that Bloom’s taxonomy? Every kid has a “voice”. The student who always volunteers to act: In how many classes can he do that? One of our school’s big initiatives has been literacy: As I have told the principal and the literacy team many times: TPRS has been practicing that for a long time, so reading is nothing new (when you think about it, in the early part of this decade, TPRS even changed the wording of the TPRS acronym to reflect that).
    Yesterday was a tipping point in one sense, a day of which I could write pages that would prove what a great method TPRS is—-for every student, rich or poor, for kids who are failing many other classes yet are succeeding in German.
    There are several more stories within that class and my other classes, but you all have similar tales. My colleague asked about how this all works. As I talked, I could see how all of the school initiatives we have to do are manifested in TPRS.
    So, Ben, keep thinking “out loud” on this blog. We all get to reflect on our teaching, and I have really enjoyed hearing and learning from other teachers throughout the nation.

  2. I have to echo Mike’s comments. While my demographics are a bit different, the results are the same. This year I have students in beginning German who failed French or Spanish last year but are doing great in German – and I grade only on actual language skills, not homework or how neatly they keep a notebook. One of them is a “class clown”, except in TPRS his talents get recognized without having to disrupt the class. Another visits the Assistant Principal regularly, but never for anything he does in German class – because his behavior is never a problem. Other students are visibly relaxing now that they realize I’m not “out to get them”. One of my more outgoing, social guys took a vow a week ago that he would speak no English in class for a month. I’ve let him “cheat” by writing down a couple of things he just couldn’t figure out how to say in German. Otherwise he has done well and kept his vow while still participating enthusiastically. (Thursday I was bent over double laughing at his sound effects when we decided that “Sabine” in Michael Miller’s “Sabine und Michael” was both a “player” and a “cougar” on the prowl for men.)
    To me, one of the best things about the enthusiasm my students have is that it carries over to non-German students. The girlfriend of one of my students has Spanish in the room next to mine. Every day she stops by, shakes hands and says “Guten Tag” before going into class. Another student is constantly asking his friend in my class to teach him something else he can say to me when he walks by. My students regularly greet me in German on campus and will even talk to me in German at school events and games, in the store, etc. Friday our varsity soccer team beat an arch-rival; the guy who scored the winning goal in sudden death overtime came over to me and started to tell me about it in German.

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