Report from the Field – Sean Lawler

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20 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Sean Lawler”

  1. Sean I think you would agree that over the years we have discussed – very heavily – this topic of poorly informed admins coming in and making snarky comments about output to us without having any idea what speaking entails.
    There are five categories and a lot of posts in each of them on the right side of this page in the “Categories” section that new readers could refer to if they also have experienced the snark from admins about speaking that Sean describes above. (If they haven’t experienced it yet they probably will….)
    The five categories to look in are:
    1, Output
    2. When Attacked
    3. Administrator/Teacher/Parent Re-education
    4. Observations by Idiots
    5. Bullying of Teachers
    My personal take on this is to just not let it get under your skin at first, from the first comment. You just dismiss the comment as you would shoo away a fly.
    (Admins don’t last too long on any one mission to prove their superior knowledge to a certain teacher. There are too many teachers! However, importantly, if there are too many flies coming out of this one administrator’s mouth and it becomes a problem where innuendos are being made about your job security, you must hit back with not only the links you provide above, but any one of the articles provided in the list above. We have enough information here to protect our jobs from attack – it’s just a question of finding the right articles since they are spread out over such a long period of time.)

  2. Sean I went to the Primers on this and found something that speaks directly to the topic. It’s an article by by Nathaniel Hardt that directly addresses the point called “Speech Output Primer #2” –
    …when we speak to the students in such a way that they must try to understand the message, and not focus so much on responding to it in the target language, we engage our students in higher-level thinking that is natural. Forced speech output in language acquisition is unnatural and impossible. Speech output will eventually emerge but not because of rote memorization of complete sentences. Rather, we skillfully lead our students by playful analysis of many complete sentences to the point of spontaneously producing their own complete sentences because they have been listening and understanding. This requires far more time than we have in our classrooms, thousands and thousands of hours and, according to Dr. Stephen Krashen, the process is not even a function of the conscious mind. So trying to focus on speech output in class, especially in the early stages of language study, is futile, like trying to shine a light through a wall of rock. To quote Dr. Krashen on the subject:
    “Language is acquired through comprehensible input. It is an unconscious process that happens when the learner is focused on the message, rather than the language itself.”

  3. Sean here is something Skip Crosby wrote here in 2015 about early output:
    1. ACTFL puts too much pressure on early output.
    2. The Standards like Communities, Connections and Culture seem to be in stark contrast to Susie’s insistence that we just “TALK (CI) to the kids”.
    3. The insistence on IPA also seems to be in contrast to “just talking to the kids”.
    4. The project based assessments seem unnecessary and take tons of time away from CI.

  4. This quote from Nathaniel Hardt, especially, will serve as a nice shield for me with my current principal. It’s those jargony phrases like “higher-level thinking” that feed her evaluating hunger.
    Thanks for finding these sources, Ben. This PLC is truly a unique resource.

  5. Hi Sean,
    Thanks for sharing out. It can be hard to protect and defend what we do in class because it is in the best interest of ourselves and student learning. CI is THE way people acquire language and that is what we intend to do. My response is to simply listen and act naive and to know as much as possible from the admin. Be blue as much as you can and ask clarifying questions. It may be a hard pill to swallow but validating what admins say–if they are making sense–goes a long way too. The few that I have met really like to feel validated as well. Don’t sweat the passive-agro stuff because it really just reflects poorly on the communication skills of the adminz (as jen would write).
    Let’s break down the segment the admin wrote:
    “I hope to visit again at a time when I can also catch the component of class when they are speaking and producing as well!”
    My response is: “I would love a visit from you anytime. My door is always open to visitors especially if they get involved in the learning alongside students. This way I am able to get feedback from everyone in order to provide the very best instruction. Again, thank you for comming by and supporting the language program at _______.”
    For speaking and producing, I would include rejoinders a la Grant like “Qué Lastima” “Qué Horror!” “Qué Ridiculo” etc… In the past, whenever I say it the kids say it too. When people say “speaking” you can get away with parroting and because we get into our own career jargon, we assume that the other party means output. Kids aren’t ready for that but they can parrot.

    1. You can also add PARTNER retells in Spanish at the end of a lesson using the “supports” or words with translations on the board. What I do, is that I recycle the story and start numbering the order. That way students know what to do next. You can also do this after the many reading options.

  6. Boy, Steven, you really know how to say what admin want to hear! Thanks for that perspective.
    I’m also trying to drop some crumbs along the trail leading up to my evaluation, on which I’m quite certain I’ll get dinged for not giving enough speaking instruction. At minimum, I can bring up during the evaluation conversation these points I make in these emails.
    Far from any worry about losing my job (my instruction coach and immediate supervisor/assistant principal have a high opinion of me) I have an interest in educating my principal more, the one that does the final teacher evaluation, on all things CI. So, I’m trying to take advantage of opportunities to do so.
    Oh… and the partner retells… I really need to do this again. Especially as something to fall back on when an admin pops in. I haven’t done partner retells for over a year now! There is a place for it, though, more as a kind of brain break than anything. I used to always do it as a Line Up, or Speed Dating, kinda activity. I’ll also do the 3minutes –> 2min –> 1min retells to challenge students to speak faster. I have 95 minute block classes, so I can definitely do this, especially with my year 2 students.

    1. Dings are teaching points. Since there is no danger of losing your job over it, let it go. Admins are taught in their trainings to find at least one thing wrong*, and the speaking thing is an easy one to find if you don’t know the research.
      *for many it is an emotional need to find something wrong

  7. And Sean I really advise picking your battles. This person will move on within three or four years if the stats about admins rotating out are true, and if a few conversations haven’t done the trick by now, it sounds like you’ve got a faulty light bulb there. Why waste your time?

  8. Here are five activities from the 21 reading options that address speaking in some way:
    4. Choral Translation: Use the laser pointer or put your hand on the projected words as the students read through the text in L1 with loud voices. The Reader Leader (see chapter on student jobs) guides the class along with a strong and measured voice. If there is no student doing that job, the teacher leads the class. Sometimes it is necessary to move the pointer in a
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    non-linear way to make English word order happen in the translation. This is an opportunity to point out di erences in word order in your L2.
    5. Discussion of Grammar in L1: While the class is translating the text out loud, the teacher stops from time to time to very brie y point out grammar features. Finally, we can explain grammar to the two kids in the classroom who care. Ask students what certain words mean. Point out adjective agreement and even spelling changes in boot verbs. Explain possessive adjectives. Use English. Go for it, but quickly, keeping the grammar explanations down to under four seconds. Never mention the actual grammar terms, since most kids won’t understand, caring only to know what the text means. Don’t test your students on any of it. Over time, they will see patterns. This will lead to true acquisition of grammar, but much later, for those few who are interested.
    Note: Steps 6, 7, and 8 happen simultaneously, in L2.
    6. Reading from the Back of the Classroom: Each reading option presented here has signi cant pedagogical value. But this step is the best. With
    the story still projected in front of the class, turn
    the kids away from it to face you in the back of the classroom as you face the text. Then start an in- depth repetition of the rst paragraph, stopping only
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    to ask slow yes/no questions to individual students. Allow students during this time to turn and refer to the text for a moment if needed.
    This process piles up repetition upon repetition. We milk each line in many ways, asking direct content questions about the text but also bringing in discussion of how a student in our class may compare or not with the characters in the story. Slowly we work our way through the text.
    This is big work. I feel that when I am doing this step I am doing the best possible job of teaching language that I can possibly do. The students look at me and provide answers to some very sophisticated questions in the target language. They can do so only because of the amount of preparation work that has preceded this point in the reading options. Each student is
    held accountable and has nowhere to run. Anyone observing the classroom during this time would have to admit that the students are learning the language.
    There is an entirely di erent dynamic when the students face you and not the projected text. When they can’t see the text, they simply interact with you verbally in the language. This is real conversation in the TL, set up beautifully by all the narrow and deep repetitions gotten up to this point in the story creation and reading options. When they face you
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    and discuss the text behind them, it is the real deal. You’re teaching for output, and it feels thrilling!
    7. Readers Theatre: During Step 6, you will come
    to points where certain lines of dialogue are said. Some of the lines are so good that you will want to temporarily suspend the discussion you are leading from the back of the room and recreate a scene from the story by bringing up the student actors who originally created the dialogue when the story was made. Ask them to sit on a stool (leaving the stools in their place in Hub C), and direct them from across the room to read their lines in dramatic ways. To
    do this, you will need to refer to the Director’s Cues poster that should be above the whiteboard directly over the projected text at the front of the room. Once the actors have had a turn, allow other students to try their hand at saying the actors’ lines. It will make you glad that you are a teacher as you watch the kids try to outdo each other in how they say their lines during this Readers Theatre reenactment of the scene from the original story. How to use the Director’s Cues? Let’s assume Jason’s line from the story was, “You’re red! Leave now!” At this point you tell Jason, just like the director of a play would, to say his line in di erent ways—angrily, quickly, holding one hand out, in a quiet voice, as per the list of Director’s Cues provided in the Appendices. After a student speaks a
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    line, you can invite the class to see if anyone else can say the line with more gusto, more romantically, more quietly, more to the left, more to the right, more with one foot o the ground. Even the shiest kids want
    in on this and it can be marvelously entertaining.
    So what if it takes a half hour to do one scene, with everyone getting a chance to show o ? Our work is about mental health and fun and community rst, and language gains second. Moreover, when we work with the Director’s Cues, we are piling on repetitions of language in a way that everyone wants to listen to.
    8. Jump into the Space: This technique encourages speech output without force. It is for the strongest students and can really challenge them.
    With the story projected, as you are proceeding along with steps 6 and 7 above, instead of accepting one word answers, invite certain students to answer in fuller sentences, as they wish. Ask them to respond with L2 sentences that mimic the words in the text.
    Example (from step 6, as you are reading from the back of the room):
    Teacher: Class, in our story, does Ann have a very small light blue castle in Italy, in the suburbs of Rome?
    Student: (Knowing that in the text we are reading the castle is indeed in Italy) No! The castle is in France!
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    Teacher: You think it’s in France?
    Student: Yes!
    Another student: It’s in Germany!
    Teacher: You think it’s in Germany! It says here (pointing to Italy in the text) that it’s in Italy!
    Of course, the kids know that the castle is in Italy, but you have trained them to make up things in a spirit of play during steps 6 and 7, as a sort of parallel step 8.
    How to invite such interaction? I use the expression, said in either L1 or L2 depending on the level of the class, “Jump into the space!” from time to time and hold out my hands to the common open space in front of me there in class and invite them to ll it and then I wait. This reminds the class of the activity.
    If there are no takers, I let it go, but with certain talent- lled classes, they accept the challenge. Obviously, this
    is di erentiation towards the really high achievers. In that sense, it is an excellent thing to keep in mind when parents of such kids complain that their child is not being challenged in your class. You can ask them if their child is “jumping into the space.” Usually they aren’t, because such parents think of di erentiation as more work, not as higher-level interaction with the teacher in class.
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    Far from thinking about accent or proper construction of the language, the kids just try to communicate for meaning. I encourage them to put style and swagger into their sentences. When this happens it is a thing of beauty.
    The kids like it because they nally see the payo of all the listening and because some kids have a natural inclination to express themselves in class. Since the output is not forced, there is no harm and plenty of bene t on the very important con dence building level. Whenever a student pulls o a successful jump, I heap on the praise.
    The big caution, as usual, is about English blurting. Only teachers who can keep L1 blurting out of their class will
    see this activity work. L1 blurting destroys the atmosphere necessary for jumping during the steps 6, 7, and 8 blended activity sequence.
    9. Running Dictation: This activity provides an excellent physical break from all the sitting and listening that goes on in our classrooms. Here is how to set up it up:
    a. Take three or six sentences—depending on the level of the class—from a completed story and write them on paper, putting each L2 sentence up around the room, or even down the hall, in random places on the walls.
    b. Pair up the students. The students take turns—
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    one writes and one runs. The runner nds any of the available sentences on the wall and runs back to tell the writer what the sentence is, who then writes it in L2. If the runner forgets some of the sentence, she needs to run back to the wall, re- read the sentence and then return to the writer to complete the writing down of the sentence.
    c. Once the students have found and recorded all of the sentences, they try together to arrange them in the proper order. Once that has been done, they call the teacher who praises them for completing the task.
    This activity forces students to hold onto larger chunks of language in their memories. It is good for their brains. It is also a good activity to do when observed, as it gets the kids out of their seats and moving, so you can get that box checked.
    10. Work on Accent: Just read to the kids and let them repeat the word chunks you say. This can be a very special time. It is too early to expect anything exact in terms of their accents, and Stephen Krashen has rightly said that doing this is not a productive way to acquire a language. But as I have said, in my view what we do is only secondarily about language gains and primarily about having fun and enjoying oneself in class. The kids love doing this, so that is enough
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    reason to do it. Just be sure to make this not feel like a forced activity.

  9. Sean there is also this from the reading options – it is good because if a kid is ever going to feel comfortable speaking in class in front of her peers, it will be when the prompt is an image that they know well, helped create, read about, did a bit of writing on, etc. So if you pick a recent image that they have spent HOURS on in previous classes, you might get some good speaking for this admin. –
    19. Retell the Artist’s Work: Step 12 above was a cloze activity based on the drawing produced during the story. In this step we go back and discuss the drawing one more time, but this time the students know that after the discussion a few of them will be able to volunteer to retell the entire story based on the drawing. We hand them the laser pointer and o they go. This is a way to celebrate the fact that some students are able to retell the entire story as they look at the artwork.

  10. Ben, the issue I have with Reading from the Back of the Room is that if the students are facing you and not the text, then they are not reading, right?! I mean, as we co-created the story, students were facing me the whole time. Reading time is a break from that, for one. For two, it’s not reading if they aren’t looking at the written text. So, you can’t call it reading, can you?

  11. … if the students are facing you and not the text, then they are not reading, right?…
    No but they just read a ton in the six steps beforehand. So it is imprinted in short term memory. And it is not they but me who is reading from the back of the room and they are looking back at the screen whenever they want to do the all important work of locating something (already very) familiar to them. It is a narrow and deep application of reading from the six option steps that preceded this step. It is really going deep. It is a kind of “internal reading” on their part, where since they just read it it is fresh as they listen. Hope that makes sense.
    But when I made up the term, I was referring to me doing the reading, and them listening.

    1. Got it. I’m understanding the importance of the six reading steps leading up to Reading from the Back of the Room, for this seventh step to have its impact.

  12. For disclosure: I’ve held these reading options as a staple to my instruction for years now. Thank you for that. And I’ve presented them here in Chicago and in Cherokee Nation. (I always reference you.) For the past year or so, I’ve really only parceled it down to simply reading in the L1 with students and then translating with them. A lot of the other things you mention I sprinkle in sorta how I see fit. I’ll be looking back at them more closely. The Reader’s Theater is something I underutilize, for example. I’m biased towards looking for any TPR kinda opportunity, not to have all kids do the TPR but to engage with those kids that have the energy.

  13. Sean you are describing what happens with most people in Reader’s Theatre. It’s a Jason Fritze thing. He has a background in theatre and most teachers don’t. I shouldn’t have even used the term in the books. It intimidates people.
    All RT is really is TPR and you allude to that in your last few sentences. Besides, most stories don’t have very many really physical scenes in them and so I concur that RT rarely happens. I totally underutilized it. But when it happens, it’s a gas.

  14. Hi Sean, I really think you should do some output activities when admin is around. They are probably not around that much so it won’t waste too much class time.
    Let’s chat sometime. Just for the sake of the blog here are some ideas: 1) Retells on Let’s Recap (you get the tech box checked too) 2) Have kids act out skits of the story with dialogue. 3) Reader’s Theatre with kids reading. 3) Organic World Language has some activities that are interesting if you look on Youtube. 4) Information gap activities (like “Buscapersona” activities). -BVP would say that if these are highly structured it is actually good CI.
    This brain break of Annabelle Allen works great and is based on OWL.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNGkyM59acg
    What I’ve learned is if someone is not open you can’t convince them.

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