Report from the Field – John Piazza

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7 thoughts on “Report from the Field – John Piazza”

  1. John, thanks for talking about the intentionality that you gave your students in speaking about communication in general and in playing the “name game,” or “big circle.” I’ve been learning that this intentionality, and how we communicate it to kids early on in our words and actions really makes or breaks the year. Here’s my take on it from last year as opposed to this year in my Latin 1 classes.

    I did the big circle last year and see now how I could have been more directive in raising the awareness of my students to the dynamics of communication, collaboration and respect that make the classroom an affirming and productive place. Although we had fun with it, and I did learn a lot about my students, I wished I would have used even that time to norm the kids some on the dynamics of the class and the rules. I felt like some kids sensed some “softness” because I didn’t approach it with the same intentionality that I hear you describing above, and it took a while to recover from some students’ attempts to control the class – for the rest of the year really…

    This year I decided to give myself some supports to help me and my students get into a healthier daily routine. Rather than do the name game with my class of 40 kids and let them sit with friends (like I did last year), I just started in with Circling with Balls and was very intentional about norming the class with the rules, and praising kids (but not overdoing it) when they followed them. Other parts that helped me with this was alphabetizing names and having forward facing rows; these things have helped in these first few days to keep a quiet classroom, in which we can practice those things that you described above: what real communication is and what it FEELS like to do it in class – eye contact, listening, being affirming, etc.

    I was always afraid before of being too strict and stifling right away, but so far this year it hasn’t felt like that at all. I really have relied on these simple structures. And kids are naturally becoming comfortable in class and smiling as funny things emerge and they see their classmates express various words, expressions and laughter. There is space, and a level of quietness for this to happen, one that I never had last year because I wasn’t intentional enough in norming the class right away. I was fighting against too many structural challenges – kids facing each other, talking with friends, feeling too comfortable too fast and I, not being able to help them feel and practice good communication. This year, there’s a big difference than last, and I hope it keeps up like this; the biggest difference is that now when a misbehavior emerges from a student it FEELS WRONG TO EVERYONE, whereas last year a misbehavior FELT NORMAL because we never really got any experience early-on of what healthy classroom communication felt like.

  2. Great post. You had mentioned a few weeks ago, David, that you wanted the room to be normed in terms of the rules and expected behaviors in a natural way and not directly in their faces. So you have done that.

    Also you said:

    ….I just started in with Circling with Balls and was very intentional about norming the class with the rules, and praising kids (but not overdoing it) when they followed them. Other parts that helped me with this was alphabetizing names and having forward facing rows….

    I really shouldn’t have done the Big Circle last year either and shouldn’t have written about it here as a first day activity. I realize now that I had problems with the classes I did that with as well. They didn’t have the qualities you describe above. This year I have done what you say above and it has really worked, esp. the front facing rows and alphabetized seating. So simple!

    My own path has led to less CWB and getting into stories earlier. I don’t see how anybody armed with a good script by Anne or Jim can fail to capture the class’s imagination (is that the correct form of the possessive?), as long as they have their basic storyasking skills in place.

    And the use of the L2 Timer and the Clacker Kid (I use the hand clacker to interrupt me when I start speaking English – I found them at Party City) and all the other jobs, the Story Writer and the Quiz Writer and the PQA Counters – they are so huge in creating the proper classroom environment for this type of work.

    I am glad I put those jobs on the resources page of this site bc I am going to read them a lot more this year than last, and I am trying to get everybody a job faster to get more involvement. My two favorite jobs are the Mais Bleater – they can’t do that enough, it is such a tension reliever – and the Professeur 2 person who sits there and breaks ties on whether the house was red or blue, etc. So much fun!

    Again, yours are posts (and so are John’s) that have to be read twice, but I GET what you are saying – very subtle points they are – about how:

    …now when a misbehavior emerges from a student it FEELS WRONG TO EVERYONE, whereas last year a misbehavior FELT NORMAL because we never really got any experience early-on of what healthy classroom communication felt like….

    Great stuff to bring into my day at Lincoln High School today. Thanks!

  3. Thanks Ben. You’re right about the jobs. Those have been another ingredient for me too this year and I’m shocked at how important they are. I think it is such a healthy way of giving kids something to do and helping them feel like they are contributing to the classroom work. They themselves become more responsible and their 50 percent becomes more defined. Another thing that is becoming normal in my class this year, but was more exceptional last year – kids taking responsibility in the class.

    I wanted to add that there’s nothing wrong with the name game/big circle itself. I could see that I could have had success starting with it too. But the WAY that it is done is so key. John’s intentionality and directness are what I think made it work for him – and using it as a norming device. I probably could have made it much more successful for my own personality and classes last year if I would have placed kids around in alphabetical order. I think these calls depend on so many factors: our own presence and personality as a teacher, the size and personality of our class, the age of our students, etc. Another reason why, like Bob mentioned in another post, we are the best qualified people to make decisions about our classrooms.

  4. David, you have made a really important connection between classroom behaviors and acquisition–through the idea of something “feeling” right. The way we begin to develop a sense of grammatical correctness in a language that we truly acquire is NOT with reference to a rule (e.g. you have just violated the rule of subject-verb agreement); rather, we develop a FEEL for what is right usage, based on hearing/reading a lot of good CI (e.g. something about this sentence feels off to me). So by norming the class early, from day one, David is setting the tone for how class can and should work on a daily basis. Disruptions then become a deviation from that norm, and it doesn’t feel right to the class. Then they stop sending those emotional signals, glances, etc. that encourage the clowns. Now I am worried that by sitting back and observing for two days, and not responding, I have perhaps compromised things, but today I plan to begin CWB, and act rather than talk/observe when kids try to disrupt and take over the class, so I’m hoping that my instincts for beginning the year have been right so far. I’ll report back soon.

    1. John this is so key and we can’t really talk enough about David’s real point, the best one in that report from the field, that of making unwelcome behavior “feel wrong” to the class. Wow, now there is a point to talk about in our work, isn’t it?

      I personally do this by making sure that they know that the jGR will determine fully half of their grades, but I also do it, and hear me out on this one, by requiring the right kind and quality of choral responses from everyone.

      The connection there is that when a kid is not in on the immediate one word choral response, they stand out. They look like a dead person sitting up in a desk. That is when I go back and repeat the exact same question. And again. Until the kid who is not showing up shows up.

      It is so cool to see the class turn on the kid and tell him to get his ass in gear so they don’t have to listen to the same sentence all class (they want to know what is going to happen in the story!) And I will wait the kid out.

      I will not say the next sentence until my ENTIRE class is responding with nice loud choral answers. I will expand on this later today after a bike ride in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where we celebrate and salute our New York brothers on this day.

      1. So true, Ben. That’s exactly the tac I took today with a sleeper or two. I just kept asking the same question glued in on the one who had turned off. And the rest of the class got louder and louder and a few whispered “John!” or “Mary” until they responded. I felt a little mean (some periods) and a little weary others. I started the day very sick–at one point just after 7:30 thought I might lose my breakfast in front of the class (yeah, it’s been a long day) but, it got better. And, I did the work, played the game, and required them to play with me. Sort of proved to myself that I can do this even on a very, personally, crappy day.

  5. John, I’m sure your instincts are right and it sounds to me like you broke some definite ground with your kids if you were able to get them thinking about what real communication feels like – especially in their own experiences with friends and family. That’s huge and the beginning of the year is definitely a good time to engage their minds on it.

    I changed it up this year for my class mainly because I knew that I need to give myself a lot of structure so I can give the kids enough structure. (I tend to be a more passive personality and really enjoy hanging out and joking with kids, so I have to structure my class to not be too lax to early, otherwise my kids have got the wrong message about what’s acceptable.) Doing the alphabetized seating chart was one good exercise for me to work on creating structure, as has been trying to stay in the TL and not add in my own jokes in English (major temptation for me all the time – I love hamming it up in front of the students and making them laugh, but I CAN’T do it, especially at the beginning of the year.) Like Ben posted somewhere, it’s grossly unfair for the teacher to get to talk in English (and jokes are even worse) and the kids not to; that won’t last long. And I used to do this all the time (I still do it more than I should in my upper levels and they model it right back to me).

    So my lesson that I had to learn the hard way: use any structure you can to help the students and yourself, and model the behavior yourself that you want to see from them. All my joking around in English during classtime has always just come back to bite me (and I thought I was “connecting” with my students). I’m buying one of those clapper things at Party City today and save my jokes for before and after class – or maybe…. during a brainbreak?!? hmmm…..

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