Report from the Field – Celeste Ramovic

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51 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Celeste Ramovic”

  1. It took me eight years just to learn TPRS so don’t feel bad. You clearly have the initiative and the intelligence to pull this thing off quite well. I’m glad you are staying in touch – it helps everybody. My main immediate concern, Celeste, is about that IB track. Will the investigators, sorry I mean observers, be looking for how you are addressing that specifically? If so, that is grossly unfair, to do that to a new teacher in mid-year. It takes years to build an working IB track using CI for even experienced CI teachers.

  2. Honestly, Celeste, I would punt. Are you doing any grammar/worksheet instruction with them now, dividing the time between that and trying to make some of the non-targeted strategies work? Throwing your hand up in the air is no sign of failure, that is certain. It sounds as if that would in fact be the best policy here.

  3. Maybe you could take those three classes and hammer them with worksheets. I would do that. Then give the two “good” classes a mix of both. The good news is that this is not uncommon. It just takes some work and then next year you will be in a position to create a respectful group of kids. No wonder the previous teacher left in mid-year. She made a mess and is making you clean it up. Thanks! Honestly, those kids cannot change. You’re going to have to go to survival mode with traditional stuff while training for next year, for a new day.

  4. …I’m going to give them grades this week for “class conversation” every day (and in a category that has weight), but I’m not sure it will work ….
    It won’t. Don’t do it. They are too far gone. It will become a fight and a bad one as a few ring leaders will show up to do battle with you in an effort to get back to the old status quo of zombie participation. I would leave that piece alone. If they can’t do listening, then don’t do listening. Do the written stuff.

  5. Could you do some class readings? Maybe have the heritage speakers work on one book and set it up like lit circles, and then a couple other groups. You could read with each group a little bit every day and get them to submit a comprehension check at the end of the time (15-20 minutes)? Something like: What happened in this section (summary)? Who were the characters? Where and when did it take place? Was there a conflict that happened? If so, tell me about it (who was involved, describe the conflict, what was the outcome). If there was no conflict, how did the story move forward? Share your opinion about something you read in this section. What kind of connections can you make with what you’ve read?
    They’d have to be accountable, you could give them a grade and they’d still be getting good input.
    Have you tried card talk? I started the year with that and it really helped with them paying attention to when I spoke. Really easy but a good place to start.
    Good luck! It sounds like you’ve got a lot on your plate.

  6. Celeste – Dana hits on two areas that are excellent possibilities – reading and card talk. Both will work wonders and reading holds the most potential. It all depends, however, on how far gone this group of kids is. If they know only worksheets, they likely can’t read much. And they may be too closed off for the cards. Let us know how this goes this week w a daily report if you can. This is the kind of thing this PLC exists for, really, to problem solve and keep you afloat until you can start w a new group in the fall. Courage!

  7. Welp, it’s Monday morning and I’m about to head into my classroom so I don’t think I have time to switch up my plans for the day. I’m planning a translation bell ringer, movie talk, a mini-quiz, and dictation for most of my classes. I also created a Kahoot for all my classes based on the conversations and stories we’ve built thus far. Basically, I want to hammer in as much structure as possible in the next few weeks so that students get accustomed to a routine:
    (1) bell ringer (review/translation of 3-5 sentences from previous day’s conversation),
    (2) story/movie talk/OWI (I might start creating some of my own to help them get used to what stories can look like),
    (3) comprehension quiz,
    (4) dictado/quick write.
    All of my classes have drawn characters so we have fun stuff to work with for OWI and they kind of get into that. I would also like to build a brain-break in the mix (they work for some of my classes just fine), but I need some that will help keep order and I’m struggling to find them.
    For one class in particular that gave me a real hard time last week, I’m planning to give them a choice today: they can either do movie talk with me in a way that supports the flow of Spanish, or I will administer a test (which I’ve already prepared and which is based off of the stories we’ve built in class). I also want them to know that all my classes are watching a movie on Friday but that they need to make better choices to earn that same privilege.
    To be honest, I would need a bit more time to figure out even what worksheets would make sense for these students since I’ve not used the text book in the past five weeks since I’ve been here.
    Also, regarding the heritage speakers, there are really only one or two in each class, so I’m not sure how to set them up with literature circles. I also haven’t read any of the novelas the whole way through so it will take me time to figure out how to teach with those.
    Finally, “card talk” has worked with some of my classes. However, in other classes, there’s kind of a toxic vibe among students (cliques and power dynamics, etc… they’re freshman and sophomores in HS). This vibe has made it hard for students to even want to talk about themselves or their interests in front of each other. In those classes, I’ve had them create characters that we’ve built stories out of (i.e. a OWI variation) which kind of works.
    I can totally try to do worksheets with a few of these classes but I think I’m reluctant not only because I know they’re ineffective, but also because of how soul crushing they are to *me*. If you guys feel like that’s really the way forward, I’ll start moving in that direction with my more rambunctious/out of control kids. I was just really hoping that something would click for them and for me and that maybe more hardcore routine would help that happen! But that might just be my wishful thinking.
    PS Sorry to confuse you, Ben, but my name is really Celeste Ramovic. My email uses Larkin though…

    1. The question is whether worksheets will work to get you through the year. And that’s all you have to do now – get through the year. Otherwise you would be trying to grow grass on poisoned soil. Others may disagree and maybe my long years around this kind of thing have soured me, but I just don’t see you trying so hard in a toxic atmosphere. We need to do whatever it takes to get you ready for fall not spring.

    2. You are a countryman of moi. Well, my background on my dad’s side is Croatian and on my mom’s side Russia. She was captured at 17 by the Nazis in 1943 in the Battle of Taganrog (Black Sea) and my dad was a GI and after her four years in a German camp they got married and moved to California.

      1. That’s a powerful story, Ben. Your parents must be amazing people. And, to be honest, my husband is tvoj countryman, not me. I just get to have the cool last name. 🙂

      2. Interesting, my grandmother on my dad’s side was Croatian, but grew up partly in Vienna and then came to the USA at 15, her husband was from Munich, Germany and came to the USA before WWII. Mom’s side is Polish.

  8. HI Celeste,
    So sorry to hear about your difficult groups. I just finished a semester where 2 out of 3 sound just like yours. Totally toxic. In retrospect I wish I had stopped trying so hard to make it work. It was way too much for me. I wish I had just given them worksheets.
    So…I agree with Ben about letting go of getting them to interact. It was impossible for me, yet I was still “hopeful” and that just made it worse. The groups had zero interest in listening and learning about each other.
    I started to use Jon Cowart’s weekly packets toward the end. This gave a nice routine and enabled me to feed them some CI. Here is a link to my adaptation of the packets.
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RVjgnqk6GmKoA0sHaf8b7HKAAIRv8sMAN9sCuO_O9F8/edit?usp=sharing
    Let me know if the link works. If you need them now and the link doesn’t work you can find them here:
    http://johnpiazza.net/weekly-packet/
    These are basically blank sheets, one for each day of the week. I hand them a new packet every MOnday. I use it for dictation, write and discuss, random translations (ie, you need them to shut the heck up, so you project a paragraph of something on the board and let them have at it.)
    To avoid extra grading work, just look through and assign a rubric grade 1-2-3-4. Since these activities are mostly reading comprehension or listening comprehension you can keep it simple: 4= understands main ideas +details 3= understnads main idea 2= understands isolated words / phrases 1= no evidence of understanding
    If you have tech in teh room you can always assign conjugation websites and such.
    Take it easy on yourself so you can focus on the fun classes. They deserve your best energy. Not that the others don’t but you have to be in survival mode in these groups.
    Hope this helps!

    1. Thank you, Jen! I just requested access to that google doc. I can’t wait to look through it. I just got out of two classes with movie talk. One of them was awesome. The other was TERRIBLE. I’m really excited to look through these packets and start using them immediately! Our text books couldn’t be worse.

      1. PS Jen-How often do you collect the packets? Do you print a bunch of them out and make the students responsible for holding onto them throughout the week?

        1. I agree that they are overrated but I think Movietalks are a great thing to do for a formal observation. Especially since it’s more of a performance than anything. Then you can hit the “technology use” target in the Danielson framework and follow the movietalk up with a volleyball read- BOOM- you got your student-centeredness check mark.

          1. Usually if I have an observation I make sure that I practice that MT with all of my other classes first. Preferably it should be a MovieTalk that you can find someone else doing on Youtube as well.
            I don’t usually do any pre-activities during Movietalks.
            If I am being observed my class looks basically the same: Beginning of class routines, FCR, PQA about the FCR, Calendar talk and then the aurual input or reading activities for the day.
            The only difference when being observed is I would rely on more targeted stuff because the NT vs T2 debate will be lost on most admin, so I don’t even go there. Students are happy and parents are happy, they know I present at conferences and that makes the school look good, and that is all they care about.

  9. I just wanted to chime in and say your struggles are my struggles. Enjoy and appreciate those two classes where it is working, try things out on them, hone your skills on them and know that next year will be better because of it. Then do whatever it takes in the other 3 classes to save your job and your sanity.
    I finally figured out this year that CI does not have to mean class discussion. It can mean the students sit silently and listen to me talk about something they may or may not care about and then silently answer T/F questions. It can mean students sit silently and translate a reading they may or may not care about as I read it to them line by line. It can mean students sit silently and watch me type up a story and when I want a detail I have them silently raise their hand and give me one word. It is still CI even when it isn’t super exciting character creation CI. I have been making them sit silently and do something CI for several minute stretches, then I give them a minute brain break to turn and talk about something with a partner. Then we do the silent CI again, then another brain break…and back and forth until the period is over. Is it a hilarious fun time? No. But is it delivering messages in language they can understand. Yup. It doesn’t feel soul crushing the way textbook work feels soul crushing. And the class that needed this the most in October can now engage in conversation in a more fun an fluid way.

    1. These are great points in terms of CI not always being a rip-roaring good time. I think your suggestions would be wonderful, Carly, if it weren’t for that key word: *silently*. My students–in one class in particular–do NOTHING silently (lol). Maybe I’ll train them with worksheets and whatnot, but until then, they literally tell me that I’m boring to listen to (good thing I’m a robot-teacher and don’t have feelings!) and they don’t do it. In about three or four out of my other five classes, they’ll listen and they’re great and engaged. That other class though is a circus.

      1. Celeste, I would seriously just focus on passing those admin evaluations. Even do some ouput activities if it will make the class look better. Perhaps some pairwork, admins love that.
        Unfortunately I’ve found that having a new teacher come in and be new to teaching AND new to CI at the same time leads to a crash and burn scenario. Just do what you can to survive the year and control the class, even if it is not CI.
        Also, keep an eye on the job postings at our school 😉

        1. And Celeste do you have some sort of reading they can all read together in front of the observers? You could use the first six or seven Reading Options from the book (or search them here). Greg is right – reading and even pair work (the second reading option, actually) impress.

        2. Greg is doing a CI teacher rodeo roundup there in Chicago. I look forward to seeing how this plays out. About ten years ago group member Drew Hiben was in LA was a new teacher in a department of 10 and he was the only CI (TPRS) teacher at the time. Now he is the department chair of 15 teachers of whom most are CI.

      2. …they literally tell me that I’m boring to listen to ….
        That kind of statement used to crush me and all it took was one kid. So good on you. Make no mistake…those kids are toast. No blame. Even the teacher who left can’t be blamed. If anyone gets blamed, it’s the textbook companies who made sure they had and still have control of our profession.

    2. …CI can mean students sit silently….
      …the class that needed this the most in October can now engage in conversation in a more fun and fluid way….
      So what Carly did was pass on the “I’m the Hero Teacher!” thing and say to them, “You can’t do the back and forth reciprocal listening thing needed for the class to work for you. Never mind. You will listen. I can take it.”
      Then gradually it erodes and they become human. This is what the Sufi Master Inayat Kahn has said in a passage on “Education” – to just keep repeating and repeating in a loving and patient way until you get the results that you want from the child. Carly is doing exactly that.
      That’s a pro move bc most teachers when they hear crickets in their own classrooms freak and immediately go to worksheets. So you have to decide how far gone those kids are Celeste. Which will it be? Crickets or worksheets? We have presented both options here.

      1. Yes Ben! I’ve given up on being the hero teacher and just tried to be the teacher. I was nervous they wouldn’t be silent. A seating chart with a place to mark a grade as they watched was helpful. You talk, your grade drops. I tell you lovingly and mark it. You argue, it drops again. You comment, it drops again. Took a few low grades but they ended up giving in to the silence. Celeste, try it if you feel you can. I didn’t think they would be silent either but I tried and it worked. I had to really believe in myself as the teacher, as the adult in the room who knew what to do, as the person who didn’t give a crap if the kids didn’t like it because I knew better. I don’t know if I could have done it year one because I didn’t believe it yet. I’m seven years in and it’s still hard, but I believe it now.

        1. And Carly think of that workshop in Denver it seems so long ago but that is how slow and difficult the growth can be in this profession, one reason it is looked upon as so difficult. You are very honest in your comment.
          Finding our personal power, applying it, finding it in our body posture and vocal tone, using our bodies as instruments of power, this is all undiscussed at workshops but Tina and I now consider it one of our primary areas of inquiry. We just happen to both feel the exact same way on that topic. I have been examining the body/mind connection in language teaching very intensely for 40 years now.
          Our physical body mirrors our physical poster. The mind and body connection. Most people wouldn’t want to hear that bc it requires more work, more self-awareness on our parts*. Rather stay in the mind. Instruct in the mind. Think, not feel. But this work no longer allows that avoidance into worksheets. We have to be in our bodies when we teach a language.
          *So many language teachers went into the profession bc of their expertise at the mind/mechanical aspect of language – grammar. Now it’s shifting away from that and they don’t know what to make of it? Vygotsky who?

          1. And Carly once you get the first week protocol down, you won’t have to do the point removal thing. It’s good that you did it, just to train them that you mean business. Sounds like an intense process – I have never even tried it. But when we go through Plans A through E (new book is out – I forgot to mention it here) in the first week, they know to shut up just because your entire focus of the first week was setting up your classroom power structure with you at the top, protecting yourself with smiles and loving power moves. Having written at a deeper level about classroom management in two recent books, I am now convinced that we live or die for the entire year depending totally on what we do in that first all-important week.

          2. The point thing was an in the moment I need to make this work now thing. I know I can do a better job setting up expectations in the beginning of the school year, and when I get a chance I am going to STUDY the classroom management book. From what I’ve gleaned without reading, I am starting to understand the power of body language and tone of voice and I am practicing that loving/bitchy delivery and trying to find what feels genuine. It’s coming together slowly. Thanks for your continued support and acknowledgement of the process.

          3. Yes but the point thing was necessary, I think. The idea is that we don’t back down to rude words from kids who have been allowed to be rude at home and in school for years. I read an article – can’t remember where – stating that teachers are in the least control in history now, due to phones and just general disrespect. One reason TPRS is such a problem has nothing to do w how challenging the change is but the rudeness blanketing our schools these days.

        2. Carly et al—do you think the grade for talking out could work midyear, or no? I’m kind of at a loss of what to do and have mulled over so many options, though I always come back to alternate plan for unwilling student…I am hoping my 3rd year I will absolutely ace the first week, that lettings students choose seats will break up the cliques, the grade will have them whipped. I hope!!!

          1. Meg – Tina and I can’t that say our Plans A through E are foolproof, but the time we spent last summer on the road saw those things you refer to above in the last sentence come into a kind of focus in our minds. We discovered last summer that we share identical views on so many aspects of teaching! We actually spent the summer in 15 cities and each time we presented on the classroom management piece we were more and more impressed. It’s a powerful mechanical sequential plug-and play-process that is, in our view, THE most important thing at the start of the year along with building community. My prayer is that it proves to be all that. I have a strong feeling, after writing the second (new) book w Tina and talking over all of the classroom management with her AND the community building piece that it’s the best cohesive plan I’ve ever seen personally. The sub-text here is that Tina and I may seem like nice people, but we’re not, not really in that first week with our students at least. All they see, w Plans A -E, is happy teachers, yes, but also teachers who CLEARLY ARE NOT GOING TO ALLOW, NO, NOT ALLOW, NOPE, UH-UH the culture of the class to get out of hand. We will do that by snuffing out the match that those certain few kids keep trying to light so that our badass selves are in control, we the teachers are in control and the kids after those first few days GET THAT THEY ARE NOT TO CROSS US FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR AND IN ALL YEARS AFTER THAT UNTIL THE END OF TIME.

          2. Hey Meg! I started mid-year with my seating chart grade thing BECAUSE I did a crappy job at the beginning of the year setting up expectations. I will be ready next year with plans A through E. But as an emergency management system, the points thing works for me and I say try it out to see if it works for you.

  10. Thanks for your words of wisdom, everyone! And I will *definitely* keep my eyes peeled for job postings, Greg. And, in the meantime, I will try to make sure my most difficult students have the maximum amount of paper and pencil work I can give them. I have to spend this week figuring out our textbooks to even know where to start but I’ll make that my goal for sure.
    To be honest, in four out of five of my classes today, students responded so well to the movie talk and to a large amount of CI. It was just one class where they just got so negative that I ended up making them do a reflection on the classroom norms we had agreed upon at the beginning of the year and called it a day. Those are the ones who will get the worksheets and paper/pencil work from here on out. I’ll keep everyone posted, especially after all of this thoughtful advice and support. Maybe I’ll think of this as my own experiment to see how much progress students can make with CI or without over the course of 6 months.
    And regarding the observations, you all have given me some great ideas about how to bring peer-to-peer exercises in every once in a while and how to get students to do some verbal output here and there. I also feel like I’ve gotten a bunch of good ideas from here: https://benslavic.com/blog/observations-by-idiots/
    So grateful to you all!!

  11. Celeste I think you should scale CI down to something that looks a lot like school. Pencils, paper, and immediate grades for written work.
    Some ideas are:
    Have them all turn in a little slip of paper that has a fact about them. For example, their favorite food or a place they like to hang out. Or their Top Threes. Top three places to go on the weekend. Top three things they like about school. Top three friends. Top three teachers of all time (besides me). Then do Write and Discuss, pulling their answers and questioning them and the class to fill out the paragraph. You won’t get through all of them (unless you like leading them on a long ass forced march that could take a week or two) but it’s still fun. You can have them take notes on the writing or copy it into their copy books. Then give a written quiz either using notes or not. Bingo. Two grades (plus interpersonal communication) you can use to bludgeon the little darlings into listening.
    Do a Venn diagram as you compare and contrast two kids. The class can take notes on their own Venn diagrams. Then do a write and discuss paragraph telling your findings. Have the little
    Give them a map of the world or a country and have them listen and add to their map what they hear and see you add. Then write and discuss to summarize their learning. You can take up and grade their maps and the paragraphs they copy.
    Grades in the grade book.
    Making it look like school.
    Making listening pay off.
    Let me know if this helps.

          1. AWESOME! Can´t wait to see it.
            I dont really believe you when you say you take no work home. 🙂 I am looking at your new book of over 500 pages of pure awesomeness and it looks to me like you work day and night.

    1. I like the top three idea, Tina. Mostly because when I asked students to talk about what they personally like, I think they felt too vulnerable. Top three’s might be enough of a one-degree-removed thing to work in our class. I’ll probably combine this with the packet thing so that students feel accountable to paper and pen work. Thanks for the idea!!

  12. I had a class like this my first year. I toughed it out. I did some stories but really at the end of it all, I assigned them in class work from the book. Go to any chapter review and have them do “discovery learning”… This is what they were used to before. It really was because their previous favorite teacher had to leave the district due to legal reasons. Do whatever you can for your sanity and get the box checked and move on fresh for the new year.

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