Report from the Field – John Bracey

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33 thoughts on “Report from the Field – John Bracey”

  1. This really made me laugh. I mean, it’s really funny. Check out this particularly tasty morsel from above:

    …they all blamed their lack of students on my lack of homework….

    That just shows that those colleagues are nothing but clowns, jokers to the left and fools to the right of John.

    Here is another laugh getter:

    …they wrote letters to parents and told them that their programs were in trouble because I wasn’t giving homework….

    Really? Those are some sick puppies right there. And John gets to work with them every day!


  2. This is just incredible. I would like to pass on my somewhat cowardly approach to the homework question. When we do in class writing, I post online Homework: complete writing assignment. In actuality, most of the students finish it in class but the few who don’t can hand it in the next day. I also post this: Homework: prepare for quizzes, the night before the quizzes. The students do need to study for their Chinese character reading and writing quizzes though it shouldn’t take them long. This seems to have silenced some of the critics.

    I know that there are kids who sign up for my class because they hear that there is no homework and that used to bother me especially when the chair of my department would wag her finger at me about it. But after a couple of years, the success of language acquisition drowns out the critics. The kids are proud of their skills and show them off outside of school. Parents will say things like, “My kid is better at Chinese than his brother who is taking it at college.” Then this year we had to open a second Honors Advanced class because we had grown so big and this is an optional class beyond the required two years. We work the Honors kids hard to prepare them for college, still with almost no homework. Then they go on to minor in Chinese in college and succeed. Next thing you know, a school Board member is telling you that word is out what a good job you are doing preparing the kids for college and then they can’t touch you. But it takes a couple of years of holding your head high while the jealous ones are slinging garbage at you.

    1. Love this, Tamula.

      And can’t stand the idea of colleagues being so straightforwardly nasty. Keep to the high road, John!

      As one of my colleagues said this year, we have to support language programs and fellow teachers in general, given the current American climate. Not exactly warming toward teachers.

      And Tamula, would you be willing to help a complete Chinese TPRS newby? If so, could you contact me?

      1. Sure Michelle, I would be happy to help. I pretty much copy Ben. I modeled my dictation after his, the jobs, JgR, picture dictation, and textivate. I learned embedded reading from you and Laurie and have been trying to improve on that. Your MovieTalk presentation at NTPRS this year was fabulous and I want to start practicing that soon.

        I was also like to recommend Diane who is in this PLC. She has given me many excellent recommendations.

        Please let me know how I can help.

  3. As the students would say…OMG!!! I can not believe anyone would be that unprofessional toward another teacher just because of numbers and homework vs no homework. Not to mention, I can not believe that the administration would back these so-called professionals. Now I am not a rabble-rouser, but my hackles were raised and I was fighting mad after what I read about what happened to John. I will admit that I occasionally give actual homework–but like in a previous comment it is “finish ….” that we were already doing in class and simply ran out of time to collect etc. My standard homework assignment is “Study and review vocab etc” because I rarely announce when there will be a quiz (in my class they are referred to as ‘opportunities’) because I want to know what the students know, not what they purposely studied for. Last night at parent conferences, I told the parents my expectations were MAYBE 5-10 minutes of review per night and that was it. The parents were overjoyed and since 47/52 of my students have 85% or higher, evidently it’s working just fine. My best wishes are with John and anybody else who ever has to face this kind of situation again. Be strong and keep your head held high.

  4. At first, I thought this was a parody! Is it really possible that a teacher could be surrounded by such a group of nullities? When I realized that John is one of the guys I roomed with this summer at iFLT, I felt a bit more unsettled. How could a teacher who spends so much time trying to improve his instruction and help kids learn Latin more effectively be so undercut and hassled BY AN ADMINISTRATOR? It boggles. Keep up the good work, John. You’re obviously a fine teacher, and the students and parents at your school seem to understand that, even though the so-called administrators do not.

    1. I appreciate the kind words, Michael. The respect is completely mutual. I am still blown away by what happened last year. I was just about ready to throw in the towel before attending iFLT. You are all incredible teachers who also have to put up with various levels of this garbage, hence the number of categories devoted to dealing with angry colleagues and brainless administrators. To me, this is the beauty of this PLC. We are all here to support each other throughout this often very challenging journey. You’re the man, Michael 🙂

  5. Thanks for the kind words of support, everyone. I had no idea that my story was that insane until I wrote the whole thing out. I think that you have the right idea about how to stay off the radar. My mistake was not realizing that people who had previously been some of my most trusted co-workers, were the very people whose radars I needed to avoid the most.

    My technique for this coming year is also likely to get me into trouble. I told all of my students that I was required to give them homework…but no one told me I had to collect it, grade it, count it towards anything or check off that they had done it. I told them that there are plenty of resources on my class website for them to use at home if they’d like. I never take those resources down so technically there is homework available 24/7. I couldn’t help myself 🙂

    I’m definitely looking forward being free of the “jealous ones flinging garbage”.

    1. Boy would I like to be a fly on the wall in one of your department meetings. That’s pretty cool that you have the fortitude to stand up to these nullities, John… such an important story here.

  6. we need Eric Herman to step up and show us some research that says “too much homework is pointless.”

    Joe IFLT this year said “I am an extremely lazy teacher” (ie he doesn’t give hwk) and his Spanish 2 kids were totally rocking it. Don’t be scared.

    I would ask your defartment members “show me evidence that hwk works.” That should shut them up.

    1. I actually did try the “show me your evidence that hwk works” a couple of times…

      I said that to our French teacher last year, who was known for being nice and accommodating to a fault, and he turned red with rage and started screaming at me in front of several colleagues. I actually thought he was going to take a swing at me haha!

      I also said that to my department head who claimed to have done an “exhaustive study” on homework which proved that nightly homework was a essential to language learning. I asked if I could see a copy and said that he’d have to “look for it”. I then asked if he had a bibliography or if he could name any sources. He stammered for a minute and then proceeded to blame me for everything under the sun including: 1) Luring kids away from the more “useful” and “practical” language of Spanish. 2) Messing up the scheduling process at the high school because “so many” kids were dropping down a level in Latin because I had so poorly prepared them. The “so many” turned out to be three students out of 40 something.

      People like this, to quote Stephen Colbert, “don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth.” That being said, I still want that epic Eric Herman research post 🙂

      1. I’ve read all of these posts and this whole thing is insane. Like, John’s colleagues aren’t sane. We are a threat. To accept that we have things right is for many teachers to accept that they spent years, decades in some cases, teaching in an ineffective manner. Those who teach traditionally and then transition to TCI, truly are reflective teachers with great character – willing to admit there’s something better. And then putting in the time to learn it.
        Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any research on homework.

        1. To add, my principal supports me and today he made the parallel to religion that many of us have probably felt. The discovery of TCI was like a rebirth experience. He said to me: “It’s like trying to make a Catholic become a Protestant.” He continued – “it isn’t an impossible change, but an improbable one.”

        2. …sorry to disappoint, but I don’t have any research on homework….

          If our Eric Herman has no research validating homework, then we can be pretty much assured there is no research validating homework anywhere on this particular planet.

          1. Oh, that research is out there. Doing a google search for “research on homework” can get you started. Harris Cooper is a big name in support of homework and Alfie Kohn opposes. Just like the debate over grammar’s usefulness, much depends on the researchers’ interpretation of the findings. And just like grammar, many of the researchers approach the question with a strong homework bias. The question for many researchers is not “if” homework works, but “how much” works.

            Though it appears in many studies that homework can improve achievement, there are so many variables and often the research is not well controlled, relies on student reports, is correlational (correlation is not causation), much is cross-sectional (longitudinal data shows less/no effects), and all depends on how you measure achievement (e.g. standardized scores, unit tests, grades), while the studies mostly leave out what could be the positives of not spending that hour on homework.

            The positive effect of homework is greater as students age. There’s the 10-minute rule (15 minutes for reading) that you multiply the students’ grade by 10 to get the total number of minutes a student should spend on all homework (e.g. 10 minutes in first grade, 120 minutes in 12th grade). And even Cooper has reported there are negative effects for too much homework. And Cooper (in 2006) said there was little research on the effects of homework by race, socioeconomic class, and ability.

          2. Check this out (2007):


            You can see how conflicted and muddy this issue is.

            They conclude: “The central lesson of this body of research is that homework is not a strategy that works for all children. Because of its possible negative effects of decreasing students’ motivation and interest, thereby indirectly impairing performance, homework should be assigned judiciously and moderately. Heavy homework loads should not be used as a main strategy for improving home-school relations or student achievement.”

          3. Thank you Eric. You truly are a fountain of information that the normal human could never find. You attract hard to find research and share it with us. It is such a good thing to have you in this group.

      2. John, you’re going to come out of this thing Strong as hell. I mean, if you’re already able to be in a room with these people (can’t call them professionals at this point any longer) and not choke up, but rather keep the dialogue rolling, then you are already Strong. Inspirational.

        In case you need the Hmwk reinforcement, I don’t give it either, and I think that it’s safe to say that many awesome language teachers on this blog don’t give much if any either.

  7. i did some googling ysterday and what I learned about hoemwork was this:

    a) Research is at best inconclusive

    b) Bad homework is worse than no homework– practicing something poorly is totally bad news

    c) Things not related to school– free play for younger kids; free voluntary reading, face to face socialising, hobbies, sports etc for older kids– have demonstrated beneficial academic effects. Indeed, the single best way to improve school performance, if you can do only one thing, is to make kids get about 30 mins of good fun cardio exercise per day.

    d) In terms of languages, the only really useful homework involves comprehensible input. If the kids are reading something easy that they like in target language, that’s worthwhile. Anything else is basically a waste of time. Which is why Blaine has said for 25 years that their homework should be reading– he suggests reading something like 1,000 words a day in TL for 4th year kids for hwk– that should take 15-20 min.

    1. For what it’s worth, Chris, to add to your point about cardio every day for kids, I have come to the conclusion, after many decades of searching, that the single most detrimental factor in the lives of kids is the sugar or fructose or all those other things that we call sugar products.

      1. Agreed. Also to Chris’ point, I think that I am a better teacher when I do not have work to do at home in the evening. So I do not give myself homework either, except very rarely. That wasn’t possible when I first started with CI because I had so much to learn in a hurry, but once the tracks are down, prep and planning is much simpler, and grading is usually quick.

        1. Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to put the tracks in place. Even without giving homework, I’m in a new job and I’m working 2 hrs before, 3 hrs after school, and all day one weekend day, just getting used to everything that is new. But all the work I am doing, is to have systems in place to make the classroom experience more positive for everyone. And a big part of that means that I’m coming to class rested and not stressed out. Soon!

          1. John, I’m in a new school too, albeit one that is struggling to keep from closing down (like so many of our urban schools, at least in Chicago) and I’m finding myself spending tons of time putting systems into place, as you say, as well to make the classroom experience a positive one. This is a very nuanced gig we have here.

            I’m just glad to hear that you experience the same workload… I’m not just spinning wheels doing all this work for nothing.

    2. “free play for younger kids… hobbies”

      Yes! And I think members here in the Homework thread were starting to talk about how they (was it Michelle?) post up a space online for students to share music links and things. Totally voluntary… A safe space… sounds like a “playful” space for students to explore the L2.

  8. The CPE paper Eric showed us should help John Bracey with his idiot colleagues: there’s no proof homework does anything useful, so why bother assigning it? If it’s a question of belief, John can just say “well, I prefer to base decisions on information and research.”

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