Report from the Field – Russ Albright

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27 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Russ Albright”

  1. Have you tried having them write? I would type up a Matava script in the target language, and have them copy it line by line with a translation afterwards. If they complain just tell them that you would like to do more interactive activities, but their behavior will need to change for that to happen. Let them know that disrespect = boring writing. If you do story listening/storytelling make sure there is no talking, and they have to translate into English as you do the story. Tell them it’s a quiz, or at least that it’s for points/a grade. If they talk, have them copy & translate again. I even had my last period copy the rules down on a sheet of paper a few times, letting them know that I was very serious about it, and class would not continue as it had before. Be rough on them with the interpersonal grade as well. You can do this!

      1. Actually, I’m usually very nice to my students, but I’m learning that there are times to remind them that I can be a harda$$ when I need to be (and for my sanity and personal life I think it’s necessary). They just need to appreciate what I have to offer, and be respectful of what I put into my work (which is a lot- perhaps too much). They have to know there are limits. Plus, students are so brainwashed by traditional school that they seem to think that if they aren’t writing then they aren’t learning. It’s sad, but I’m not going to fight it every single day.

          1. It’s a cool topic this hard ass one. I honestly never let my guard down, became their friends. I always had the hard ass side of me in there and kind of hovering in the back of my teaching persona. Maybe too much. I don’t know. But I’m kind of glad bc the dominant kids tend to take advantage of our friendliness to turn the attention to them and so it gets taken away from the shy kids and we become to a slight extent “owned” by them. I’m sure what I just said, but hey.

      I seem to be playing whack a mole with 2 diff. groups. One group was on “copying” plan 2 weeks ago. Now they are ok and another group is starting “copying plan” tomorrow.

      I have a complication, though, and would love feedback from the group on this idea. I know I need to write specifically to Gerry Wass and Michele Whaley re: multi level. Will get to that over teh weekend.

      So my current “horror” group is last block, mostly level 1 9th graders in a pretty toxic combination of personalities. Then I have 5 level 2 kids and a level 3. I can usually do the multi level gig, but this aint working. I am thinking of 1) having the level 1 kids all on a copy plan and 2) after a few days of getting the level 1s into the copying routine, i was thinking of having the older kids go to the library for the first 30 mins (80 min block), then they come back and I do a “real” CI class just with those 5, who know how to do it . Other kids are copying and not talking. I was thinking that having to watch the other kids have fun and create characters and such would provide them with a model for what it could look like if they did their 50%. I have been stopping teaching every couple seconds. Consistently. But the “walk over and have a private chat” did not go well. Kids pointed at others who were talking instead of owning up. It’s one of those classes where there is no particular ring leader, but multiple clumps of chattiness.

      Seems like it exploded this week. Definitely. Last week during spa week they were pretty chill. Before that, they were a bit erratic but I could get them back. This week, nope. I can only think it is connected to the @#$% shows going on in the world and the amped up anxiety and fear.

      I am torn between ditching Spanish altogether and having an honest discussion with them, trying to problem-solve, etc. or just diong the copying. BUT 80 mins is a longggg time to copy stuff. They will likely revolt physically.

      A big part of the issue is the space is way too crowded. I’d consider bringing desks back, but I don’t even think they’d fit, plus why do I have to punish my other 2 groups? If I can get the 5 level 2-3 kids out of the room that would clear some space. Not that I want them out, but they will be happier for sure!

      Maybe this is too crazy and complicated. I am just trying to figure out a way not to lump the older kids in bc they are trying to do their jobs and I am failing miserably to control the rest of them. Their frustration is palpable and I do not want to lose them. Maybe I already have.Ugh.

      1. Here’s the reading activities I’m trying out:

        Reading (Novel, Matava Story Script, Culture Presentation, etc.)
        • Optional: Story-Listening style presentation (leave out ending) or: show & describe “mindmap”
        • Optional: Write & Discuss
        1. Pass out reading & read in French (students follow along with finger & eyes)
        2. Students write:
        o 10 minutes: as much as possible in English (with details)
        o Copy line in French –> translate –> repeat (10 minutes or more)
        o Summary (in English or French)- 6-8 sentences describing what it is about
        o Translate a part
        o 4-6 frame illustrations
        3. I read in English, students underline words/phrases that they don’t know & write English underneath it
        4. Grammar: I explain, students take notes (show examples in text, write other examples)
        5. Visual Notes/Review (Story Listening -esque)- I write on board & students take notes- ask questions
        6. Read from back
        7. Optional: PQA and/or R’s Theatre
        8. Dictée and/or Quick Quiz
        9. Freewrite –> sketch/illustrate –> share
        10. BS project/busywork/worksheet

        Having mixed groups is unfair to you. For block classes like this (that can’t handle it) you really need some BS projects to keep them busy. Plus, it does at least give them some outlet for creativity, and they think it’s learning.

        1. You could always have the last 20-30 minutes be a listening or reading quiz where they translate, or have a longer freewrite as a quiz. This is a horrible situation…

          1. Thank you! I am going to print this stuff out. I put myself in this situation, so it’s totally my choice. I have had pretty successful mixed classes here. This group though, is proving to be way more of a challenge, so I am troubleshooting to salvage the semester.

            I chose to have mixed levels since a lot of kids wanted to take Spanish but could not fit it in their schedules. Last year it worked! This year, not so much. I am going to ask guidance to cap the # of 9th graders in a block 4 class during the first semester. Spanish is actually NOT a graduation requirement, so I feel like they need a certain maturity level. They come in September basically “still in 8th grade” so if there are a lot of them in too small a space at the end of the day in the heat…. Disaster!

            I’m trying to keep as many kids as possible in the program past level 2. But now that I’m doing it this way it could be a deterrent. I would love to have the classes labeled “Novice”( for pure beginners) Continuing (still novice but not producing); Intermediate (level 3/4/5). School is telling me we can’t have level 5 bc it has not been approved by the school board. A student has already requested it for next semester, so I will need to prepare a presentation to try to get that in place.

            I’m doing the best I can, and your list will help me since I won’t have to think!
            Merci mille fois!!!

          2. And as you look over Bryan’s excellent list of activities, reflect on how you owe no one on this. That you as the adult professional in the room will make the decisions about how you react to that class. Reading your description, I feel as if I am a fly on the wall in there. Older more mature kids patiently dealing with younger more immature ones, with a general tone of muted disrespect in the room. In the small room! It’s not just about the activities but also the mindset you carry in there. No human being could deal with that. I am a big believer at practicing forgiveness even though I suck at it. The person to forgive is not just the group of asshats that put you in this situation, but (I am speaking to myself really here) myself for not being able to do it. I don’t have to be able to do it. All I have to do is try. That’s the deal I feel that I have set up with the universe. All I have to do is try. Do my best and leave the rest. Not be results but process-oriented. What prompted that little rant was what you wrote above: “I’m doing the best I can.” That is enough. Far more than enough. It’s fantastic and that is why I admire you and have done so over how many years now here.

          3. Thank you! Quick update from Thursday: I separated out the Sp 2 and 3 kids, sent them to the library with a set of instructions for them to help me with the seating arrangement, order of activites, and weekly flow of the class. I wrote up a bunch of ideas, gave them the main “chunks” to include and asked them to use their own expertise having been in my class before and knowing “how to play” PLUS their knowledge and observation of the current group dynamics AND the time of day.

            They ROCKED a plan, 2 different seating charts, and tons of ideas!!! I had to chuckle because the plan they came up with is basically how I normally run it! But they clearly felt heard, seen and empowered. I apologized to them and acknowledged that they were not getting what they needed thus far.

            The overall shift in the plan (80 min block) is that the 6 older kids will be in the library for SSR (or book club if they choose that), plus other individual input choices. That is the first 40 min, while I am instructing the rest of them (copying and such, input but highly structured and not interactive).

            THEN after 40 min. The sp1 kids will have silent individual BS paperwork while I facilitate a fun input class for the 6 older kids with OWI, stories, etc. all the fun stuff. Purpose is for them to get quality interaction AND model what it looks like.

            It’s been a rough week for many reasons. I do not have good skills with processing anger. I ignore it, swallow it and turn to escapism. Today it got unleashed and I had a serious 15 mins of out of control rage. I am currently tardy for a PD day, but am taking my time getting to school. Still processing. It was triggered by technology issues and lack of communication, along with other stuff that happened with kids this week. During the rage I viscerally felt what I can only guess many students’ bodies feel like during the school day. It was so interesting and humbling to feel that in my body as I was discharging a ton of anger. So I now have that stunning information when kids get out of control.

            I am a full grown adult, with 20+ years of yoga practice. And I could not manage my anger in those moments. While I was in full rage I did have the witness fortunately observing “wow my body is shaking” “i really need to throw or punch something and scream” and I have the luxury of my own home in a rural area and I could go outside and throw things into the woods and not harm anyone.

            How is a 14, 15, 17 year old kid supposed to do that with no instruction, no tools and a constant hell at home or in the hallways or on the internet???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

          4. We have arrived! Jen, thank you for taking us there. This anger that we manage as teachers, and teachers in areas of poverty.

            I had a similar anger rant the other day, but with one of my Spanish heritage class. I had given a girl, Anyeli, a chance to present a place of importance to her to the class. A simple, informal presentation as many other students are doing. She chose to show a picture of several dead bodies lined up on the ground. They were bloody and decaying. She was laughing while she popped it on the screen.

            I got very upset. You might say went into lecture mode, but it was more like drill sergeant mode. I could feel my body shake too. I’ve been in this drill sergeant mode before, but not as frequent these past couple years since leaving the West Side of Chicago.

            I think that these intense lectures for kids can be a good thing so long as we don’t get out of our heads, we don’t insult kids or maintain their dignity, and we don’t let it affect us physically. On the West Side, I swear, many kids didn’t think I cared about them unless I went into drill sergeant mode.

            Part of my anger comes from feeling guilty. I am partly guilty for not previewing the image before Anyeli showed it. I find myself being too permissive and it ends up damaging the classroom culture. As Ben says, the shy ones get neglected. And I hate that.

            I’m still learning that it’s necessary to let go sometimes of what I want to teach and how I want to teach it. I have to remember the fundamental priorities of making sure students feel safe from harmful or offensive language, images, or behavior. And in some classroom scenarios, that, in and of itself, requires my full energy.

  2. …students are so brainwashed by traditional school that they seem to think that if they aren’t writing then they aren’t learning….

    This is it. So when we have them do boring translation, we know that in terms of the research they aren’t learning, we are taking care of ourselves. What is more important than that? Do we want to destroy our mental health in order to get kids who only kinda care and many of whom don’t care at all to learn a foreign language?

    1. Bryan I just put all three of your comments above on FB. I couldn’t help it. They are so on point. If not ok let me know and I will take them down. I would like to add that it was a great pleasure to meet you this summer in Portland. You pretty much rock the house and are a superior artist, and that includes all of the artists from the summer workshops Tina and I did after Portland. (Except for one guy in Cleveland and I will keep the fish he drew and we can compare next time we see each other.) I love the way you think, teach (your SL was fantastic), and help others.

      1. No worries with me! Thanks! It was a pleasure meeting you as well. I’m very thankful to be learning from you, and from the others here. It’s great support as a teacher, and the people here are fantastic. One of the best parts of going to the conference is just meeting people in the flesh, and taking in the vibe from other teachers (that you can’t quite get from a video- I think you have to soak it in), as well as the sense of camaraderie and helping each other.

        And yes, I’m pretty sure I saw some of that other artist’s work. He did a great job. I was impressed! He gets the trophy hands down.

  3. Don’t be afraid to go the grammar route. My grammar class is slowly starting to turn around. I think they might need the full month though.

    Also, the effect it’s had in the OTHER classes is amazing. Kids talk. Other classes know if they mess up they will be on the grammar pill too! Other classes asked me about it and I said yeah it’s true, the other class is doing grammar, but so far you guys are awesome so keep it up! I said just becareful about…..(then I nitpicked about some small misbehavior in the class) because those things can turn into habits that lead to me having to go to grammar.

    I had some complaints from kids about grammar and I said “If you have a problem with this class, don’t talk to me, talk to your classmates.” Some in the class still think I’m bluffing about going grammar and therefore they haven’t reformed themselves.

    I’m doing verb conjugations mixed with the TPRS Realidades supplement (for the readings). Basically SUPER boring stories which I read to them, circle line by line, we translate and then I have them copy and translate. Then to verb worksheets. They conjugate fill in the blanks and then we go over as a class, translating each line. I also am showing short video clips from Expresate on grammar, the cheesiest stuff I could find.

    I added the TPRS Realidades supplement because there are some good kids in the class that will benefit from it.

  4. Ben said: That you as the adult professional in the room will make the decisions about how you react to that class.

    This is important we had to punt and on Monday I will be doing things differently. I’m not really going to change much of what I teach them because I am definitely not doing more work but I have them a quiz over the OWI we tried to make the day before and only 4 kids in the class got an A it was a hard one and I prob won’t enter it but I wanted to show then that any thing literally can become an assessment as long as it’s in Spanish. And I will prob get flack from parents about how I’m punishing my students with graded but I am the adult and I chose how I react to my kids plus I feel like I need to reward the kids who do their job.

    1. I feel this. Our strength is in this phrase from Russ:

      …literally [any input] can become an assessment as long as it’s in Spanish….

      WE decide that.

      In fact I would take it further: Anything we teach them that day SHOULD become an assessment if they all have their snarky cone hats on that day. If kids are asking – through their misbehavior – for an assessment that period (not tomorrow it will be too late), then we should oblige them with an instant assessment on whatever it is that we are discussing that day. Russ is so right. We can make them translate, give them an instant quiz, do a dictee, etc. on whatever we want. Why talk to them about their behavior (never works) when we can slam a nice little quiz on them? Bryan Whitney is turning this into an art form and I am collecting his comments here to go into the new Bite Size Book on Classroom Management that is now in the works.

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