Reflection Piece

I got a reflection piece from jen that I am happy to share here. It is lengthy but with stuff like this it is definitely worth the read. This idea of reflecting on our work is almost like sending in a video. It is a reflection on her first “official” story and, quite frankly, it rocks. Jen said that it was “totally scary” but that she learned a “ton”:
Today I declared martial law in my classroom. Not really, but relatively speaking. I could see that I was headed in this direction, not as a punitive measure; just to gain control over the chaos brewing under the surface.
We are all learning how to practice French in a way that is natural and flowing, but since the students are beginners I cannot release them into the rapids. I need to provide a sturdy raft with lifejackets and I need to show them how to act when they find themselves under water. In this way, they will get a feel for the current but not get swept away. Gradually they will be ready for rougher water, but now, we need to proceed slowly and with great caution!
I had just introduced two new classroom jobs:  the structure counter and the English counter. On a whim, I had the English counter count not only my English words but also anything she heard from the rest of the group that was not a response to “What did I just say,” or to a legitimate clarifying question. This won’t necessarily be part of the job, but students in another class tried it and it was pretty useful and motivating for them.
It was our first attempt at a story:  the Anne Matave script “Lazy.”  It flowed fairly naturally from the PQA on “works” and “the boss yells.” The actor sprang up eagerly, kids were suggesting tons of cute answers. But I had lost control. I couldn’t keep up with them. There was lots of blurting. I made what for me is a valiant effort. Stopping frequently, reminding them to raise their hands because there were soooo many great answers and I couldn’t hear them all. A few kids looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I did my best to repeat the sentences, recap the story as I asked more questions. Looking back I can see what to do now, but what the heck, it was my first time so I pretty much rode it out, knowing there were some cool things happening AND many hellacious things as well.
My intention was to try this for about 15-20 mins, because it is a very wiggly group of 8th and 9th graders so I really want to break it up into manageable chunks for all of us. But alas, I got caught up in the story. The kids did too, but they were in overdrive by the end. They had been sitting too long and there was too much noise for any real processing to happen. Besides the blurters, the side conversations started popping up. I squashed a few only to see another one in the opposite direction. I noticed the English counter frantically tallying on the mini-white board. The white board was nearly black with tally marks. I let it play out. Did the quick quiz just to try going through all the steps. Dismissed them and then felt I needed a nap or a stiff drink. Or both.
Instead I rearranged the tables, which had been pushed aside so the kids could sit in a semi-circle. Nope. No more of that. They were smushed too close together and it was overly tempting to poke and nudge and all those other junior high- early high school forms of flirting. The space is tiny so not many options other than to do rows. Fine. Military style will help for now. When they walked in the following day they were scared. This was not what I was aiming for. “What happened?” “Are we taking a test?”  “Are we in trouble?”  I replied to the few early comers “No, no, no you’re not in trouble. I’ll talk about it when everyone gets here.”
The first thing I did was to hold up the English counter white board with the 245 tally marks on it. I didn’t have to say much.  “This is a problem.”   It was superdeluxecool that I had “data!” I didn’t have to launch into a big complaint; I just showed them the board. They got it.
The next thing I said was “We are all learning how to be in class in a totally different way, so I get that you don’t quite understand what the boundaries are.”  Despite the fact that I have the rule posters up and a huge hand with the five finger rules, I think it is still too much to digest all at once. And if I am confused with some of the rules, of course they are (I’m having trouble making a clear distinction between when I want them to reply chorally and when they need to raise their hands. The rule says “one person talks, others listen, but there are times when I want everyone to reply.)
I had read over the self-reflection rubric (from Ben?). I decided to zero in on three of the skills:  responding to every question, suggesting cute answers, and avoiding side conversations. I decided it would be too much to hand out the sheet so I had them reflect in their composition books. I wrote the 3 skills on the board in a question format to elicit more than a yes/no answer. Something like “if you have suggested answers provide examples and if you haven’t tell me what is holding you back.”
They wrote in silence. It was relaxing for me after Tuesday’s wild ride! After they wrote, we got up and moved a bit, did some TPR “yoga” to learn body parts. WE went back in and they wrote (again!) a translation of the story we’d done, then I modeled a new job that was coming up: the door knocker.  So we did a very slow very small micro-mini scene to demonstrate the new job! All eyes were in the right place: on the actions!
At the end of class I told them how amazing they were doing, and that the new seating was not a punishment but rather a tool to help them focus. I also told them what the procedure would be for side conversations. We have a system at school with these “academic alerts” that go home to parents, so I’m just going to use that system. I told them that I’d look them in the eye, say “this is your one warning,” and then for the next infraction they will get the alert and be sent out of class. I think this will help because it’s clear and it’s something they are familiar with in other classes. The difference for this class, however, is that there really can’t be ANY side conversation! When they asked “what if it’s in French?” I had to say “Your only conversation is with me. “
Reading and responding to their reflections was the most revealing time of the week! It renews my intention to do this regularly. This was our second one, which was great, because then I could frame the reflection as part of what we do regularly rather than “ooh you guys messed up and now you have to write about it.” That is NOT how I feel and I think they don’t feel this way either because we had reflected a week or 10 days ago.
Anyway, not rocket science:  I am going too fast! I am letting too much noise pollute the atmosphere by not having a clear protocol for side conversations. Also, the kids don’t “get” the cute answer thing. A few of them said they don’t suggest things because they are either afraid to answer incorrectly or that their answer will be rejected. This is huge! So Monday I plan to make the whole process completely transparent. I thought I had, but obviously not! It’s so nice to get this feedback and be able to make adjustments. I do say over and over that “there is no wrong answer” but they still don’t get that a “wrong” answer is actually more helpful because I get to say the structures more! I’m not really sure how to address the “rejected answer” issue. Easy for me to say, oh it doesn’t matter, it’s just a game. But if you are a kid and you finally get up the guts to say something silly out loud. I can see how it would not feel good to have the teacher say “No!”
Anyway, as frustrating and scary as this is, it feels amazing and completely authentic. I have never cared as much about what I’m doing as I do now. My colleagues comment that I seem like “a new teacher!” Which is exciting, because I feel like a new teacher and it’s kinda cool that it’s radiating. I’ve always felt trapped and stuck. Now I feel unburdened! It ain’t perfect and it sure is ugly sometimes, but it’s pretty freaking awesome!



8 thoughts on “Reflection Piece”

  1. Jen, Thanks so much for sharing your journey. I love the life jacket and sturdy boat image. I was also thinking about what you said about the one person speaks at a time. My French 1’s are doing a lot of hand raising – love it – we are never happy – raising your hand too much, not enough, talking too much or not enough. The French are always searching for “le juste milieu” go figure! I also had a class a couple of years ago that was very competitive about shouting out answers. Some people can deal with a lot of noise (not me) but I used with good results, Carol Gaab’s idea of asking a question and putting up my hand to give them processing time. It also occurred to me that when we all go to conferences and sit in a language demonstration, we are the BEST “students” – we pay attention, offer cute details and it does not bother us when our answers are rejected. We are such good participators! We play the game so well. I remember thinking, my conference experiences didn’t translate so seamlessly to the classroom! I tell them I am rejecting answers so I can get more reps. Maybe , if you can remember rejected answers, you could work them into the written story – just thought of that. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things. I can relate to feeling like a new teacher. I never felt like a “professional” before. TPRS or TCI stretched me in the best of ways. The amount of reflecting I do in addition to the constant interaction with fellow travelers like you has given me a totally new perspective on my career path. You will make a difference in your student’s lives. It’s a process. We must trust it.

  2. (I’m having trouble making a clear distinction between when I want them to reply chorally and when they need to raise their hands. The rule says “one person talks, others listen, but there are times when I want everyone to reply.)
    When I want the whole class to respond to first get their attention, I say “class, class” and they say “yes, yes” (that is from Power teaching)
    Then when I want one person to answer, I say their name.
    If I want volunteers, or if too many people are blurting out, I say”raise your hand” in German and I raise my hand.
    That works for me.

    1. Clase/Sí is a powerful tool. Those Power Teaching videos are great, Melanie. Have you seen the one where the entire class uses their hands in the exact same way to describe something.

      1. I have never seen the videos, I just read the downloadable book of Power Teaching and I have used Klasse/Ja and make the teacher happy: smiley face game.

  3. Jen,
    Thanks for your truly honest account of your days. It is really helpful to hear that not everyone is having nice, calm classes that Ben’s appear to be on the videos 🙂 I have 5 sections a day and each class is different. My period 1 has the most side conversations and usually with just 5 of the 11th graders who are “stuck” in the beginning Spanish class with a bunch of really quiet and shy 9th graders. The 11th graders holler out and talk across the room! But, after the first hour, my next classes decrease in the amount of chaos I feel. Is it perhaps that I feel differently as the day goes by? Hmmmm. Your class seems to have a lot of energy, now it is just a matter of focusing it in the right direction. I am sure that there are several people here on the blog that will be able to give you, and me, a lot of helpful tips. Keep up the good work! I am supporting you in spirit 🙂 – Louisa

  4. On a trip to France, we were paired with a few students from another school. I too use classe/oui. When I used it on the bus to get their attention, all my kids got quiet. I latter learned that the other student’s thought I trained my kids like dogs! Like Bryce likes to say. “Works for me!”

  5. I agree with you too Louisa and Jen. I have 2 classes at the end of the day that get into side conversations very easily. I think its because they have been sitting quietly all day in their other classes so when they come to me and we can have fun and suggest silly ideas in Spanish, that’s their key to get wild and talk. I support you all as well in spirit!! Keep up the good work 🙂

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