Mateo and his brother Manny were at the iFLT conference. Mateo wanted to take French but is only in fourth grade and so was too young for the only French offerings by me which were for older kids. But we got him in anyway.

So there was Mateo on Tuesday morning sitting in class with sixth through tenth graders. Why? His mom – our own Dori V. in this PLC – told me he really wanted to learn French.

Sabrina pointed out to me after one long morning session that the kids had just sat through class for over two hours. Mateo was sitting there in a chair for that long. He was focused, listening, just listening, for that long, and just a fourth grader!

Many adults couldn’t do that! I was very proud of him because he helped me teach by paying such close attention. Whenever a student is focused, they help you be a better teacher, as we all know so well.

Why could a fourth grader do the impossible and sit still for over two hours and just listen? Here are just a few reasons.

  • he understood.
  • it was interesting to him. What is not interesting about a talking tree telling a blabbermouth girl to get out of the mountains and leave him alone?
  • Mateo wanted to learn.
  • Mateo is very smart.
  • Mateo felt safe and important because he knows that he is very important to me.
  • using a comprehension based approach keeps kids interested.
  • Mateo is very lucky to have a mom who has been doing this kind of teaching for a long time.

I had never taught a fourth grader before. If all fourth graders are like Mateo, I need to move down from the high school to teach fourth graders! He is a classy kid! Or I could have told Mateo that in the past tense when the helping verb is avoir the past participle agrees with direct (but not indirect!) object pronouns (including relative pronouns!). Or I could have given him a worksheet with nice pictures on it. Knowing Mateo, I don’t think he is a worksheet guy, though. Not for two and a quarter hours every day, anyway. I know that because I knew that he actually wants to learn French. And you know what? He did!




5 thoughts on “Mateo”

  1. The story of Mateo is very interesting for me because Gabe started in high school Spanish 1 as a 5th grader. This past year he did Spanish 2. This coming year I just got permission from our principal for him to take the Spanish 3 class with Therese. He has done very well and this method is to blame:)

    He LOVES Spanish and sees it as his friend… He is constantly playing with the language… Today he was saying “¿Dónde estás mi mother?” Not sure why but who cares… He must think it’s fun to mix Spanish with English words?

    He has read Pobre Ana, Los Bakers…, La maldición…. Esperanza and the Coqui Story by Bryce. The reading (nothing new here) has REALLY propelled him…

    It was a bit tough for him because the high schoolers were often too cool to get involved and he was always willing… After a while he became self conscious too and afraid to look like a ‘know it all”

    Anyway, thanks for sharing… I will see you Sunday and if not Sunday Monday…


  2. So I probably won’t have the time or the thought processes needed to respond well to Ben’s post, but I will try.

    I am Mateo’s mom, and Ben’s story is dead-on. But here’s what he didn’t say (or maybe just alluded to): Mateo met Ben in the lobby of the hotel the night before he started class (at this point we still thought he’d be in an elementary Spanish or Chinese class) and we told Ben that Mateo really wanted to learn French. And then Ben made Mateo feel special and important, and told him he really wanted him in class. During the learning lab, he let Mateo choose the name of character, he let Mateo decide which team did their signal together (a responsibility job), he let Mateo hold the basketball and throw it to Ben for the word chunk team activity. And that’s only what I saw b/c I was only watching Ben’s session for one day and a 15 minute segment another day.

    Here is what Ben has mastered: Krashen’s club membership (part of the keynote). He made Mateo feel like he was part of the club, not a little kid who didn’t belong there. Mateo left class talking about how nice all the other students were (club membership, and students modeling respectful, inclusive, personalized teaching from Ben). Mateo pointed out “his teacher” whenever we saw Ben (even when Ben was leaving the grocery store, which Ben doesn’t even know). And Mateo was “emotional” (his words) when the week ended and insisted that we say good-bye and thank you to “his teacher.”

    Club membership. Trust. Personalization. Civil rights of all students to learn. This is what Ben did for Mateo, for other kids in class, and for all of us blessed enough to be able to read his words every day (because he doesn’t really take a break on the weekends!)

    But here’s the kicker: Ben is right. Mateo is smart. He’s a deep thinker. He used words like “gargantuan” and “evacuate” correctly when he was 5. But he doesn’t excel at school and he has never felt “emotional” when the school year ended. His school has equated “rigor” with “worksheets” and really needs to listen to Krashen explain the uselessness of spelling instruction. How can a kid who was concerned one morning when he was 4, “So, Mom, they don’t really know why the dinosaurs went extinct?” be excited and engaged in worksheets and spelling random words that mean nothing to him?

    I really wanted to see how he would do in a CI classroom, to see how he might achieve. I now see that his lack of focus in school is boredom, and that this method, which does not work without the kind of “club membership” that Ben illustrates in his teaching and in his blog, does work, even for kids who don’t do well in school. BIG teaching moment for me as I contemplate the upcoming school year. And, Mateo told me how much better he understood when Ben pointed to the words! Another detail to remember.

    So thank you, Ben, for teaching Mateo French, ensuring that he wants to continue to take French, but mostly, for making him special, smart, and part of the club. Bien fait.

    dori v. in CO

  3. Sabrina Janczak

    Ditto . It was indeed a pleasure to meet you and Mateo. What a great kid! Let’s hope he picks up French again , at some point. And I hope you heal soon…..

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