People sometimes claim that TPRS/CI doesn’t work in language classrooms because it requires too much energy and the kids can get out of control. It is so much easier with the book. Easier to dismiss the method than look at oneself.
But refusing to adopt input methods into one’s classroom these days is much like inserting one’s head in the sand. This insertion of head is often done with a vague hope that the people around them won’t notice, that they can keep bullshitting the students, and that they will be able to keep their jobs for another year as long as nobody notices.
I maintain that with proper training all of this fear of TPRS/CI will disappear. Really, what Blaine Ray invented is very easy, if apt to be personally insulting. The issue is not about how hard the approach is for the teacher – the issue is about classroom discipline. And the issue about classroom discipline is one of who wins the war of what is cool in class.
I once complimented a student on how focused he is in class all the time and he told me that he cares more about what I think of him than what his peers think about him, so he pays attention. What a strong thing to say!
This kid’s statement led me to reflect that our students (the rare one above excepted) are a lot more locked on to how they are perceived by the kids around them than we have any idea. Many of us mistakenly assume (a big mistake!) that, since a particular group has signed up for our classes, they want to pay attention and learn.
But when a child is 15 years old, we are about 10% of their field of vision in class. The other 90% is how they look to their peers. And if not acting interested is the behavior du jour in the class, then even smart kids will shut down to align with that all powerful invisible pressure that marks the status quo.
This is a major topic. We must bring discipline to our classrooms not only to make the CI work, but to force the kids to put their attention 90% on us and only 10% on how their peers see them. And we can’t bring this discipline without setting the rules and making sure that they have teeth in the beginning of the year. Our current success now in October with our kids is completely related to how well we have set the rules down since our school year started.
Unless we give a lot of thought to discipline and making the CI work so that engaging in class is cool because the rules are clear , which brings the fun, we will not engage our students. In that moment of not engaging our students, the value or lack of value of input based methods then immediately becomes a moot point – the teacher who can’t engage students with input methods will never know if they work without the rules in place.
Another way to say this is that input methods are thrown out the window not because of any fault in them, but rather because the lack of rules makes it appear that they don’t work. That is why most teachers who hear about TPRS don’t use it. Most of those failures aren’t a failure of the method, but a failure of the teacher to have rules that serve to undergird the method.
Once the rules are in place, the teacher can firmly assume charge of the funny and personalized CI that then flows from the strong rules base. The class becomes cool, and the method can then show itself for what it really is – genius.
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
14 thoughts on “Rules Make It Work. Rules Make It Cool.”
I agree with everything you state in our post….
I post the rules. I remind us of the rules. I point to the rules when we forget the rules. I urge students to follow the rules.
what I am not good at is know what to do when the rules are broken….. We are still on the honeymoon. Things are great. What do I do when students insist on speaking English.
No, I haven’t called home – it seems like overkill. Especially with the group I have now nothing is malicious – it is more that they forget – they never “mean to” and are usually sorry…. I have a very good relationship with them but boy – do they chatter…..
I want to find a way to deal with them that does not include “disciplinary action”
This may be misguided but it’s where I am…
I had a group of four chatty girls. I sat them at the four corners of the room. They still try to get back together but I don’t allow it. It works. That idea of sending them to the back of the room to stand there and observe but not participate is not very effective. It works sometimes. It depends on the class and its ringleaders. Whoever the ringleader of this group is, Skip, has trained you and his group to make it look like they didn’t mean to speak English. I don’t believe it. They know what they are doing. The hardest part is we get so caught up in the CI that we don’t even notice it. But we have to not only notice it but stop it in each instance. This topic is probably a huge problem for 90% of us. But the approach doesn’t work if they speak English, so there we are.
This year, at a new school, I had a hard time at first with the kids speaking English. Finally I read about a simple but effective means to help. If a student blurts out in English, (or chats, or fools around), I simply point to the door in a casual, non-accusatory way. I explained to them when I started to do this that if I point to the door, they are to get up, walk to the door and touch it, take a deep breath, collect themselves, get back into “Spanish mode,” and return to their seat ready to work. The intent and understanding is that this is not a punishment, but instead a gentle reminder to get back with us. So far it’s working great, and doesn’t interrupt the flow of what I’m doing with the rest of the class because I don’t have to pause or speak.
Can’t wait to try this. How old are the kids, Diane?
Thank you Diane. I will be trying this as well. It’s easy to forget how tough this is at times getting used to changing habits and rewriting your identity, but I like this gentle reminder that keeps good faith on both sides without getting confrontational.
I’m typing this right now from a hotel where my family is staying, and was reminded by it as I watched my children get first into the rather cool swimming pool and then later into the hot tub. I’m a “Jump in get it over with” kind of guy, but that logic doesn’t seem to play for my two youngest children. It was almost painful to watch my nine-year-old son just inch his way into the hot tub–and thus prolong his agony of acclimation–but that’s who he is right now. (With that observation in mind I had all my kids then join me in going back and forth between the pool and hot tub so as to practice the “jumping in” process. Does that make me an evil dad?)
I couldn’t help but think that some of our students are the same way about taking on the target language identity as my son is with the hot tub. The real tragedy, of course, is those few students who choose to keep only inching into the language all year long rather than spending their time swimming around and enjoying themselves.
Nathan what a great observation about your children. The other truth is that some people just don’t make transitions, of any kind, easily and quickly. I have two like that! Switching from an English-only world to a TL only classroom is a huge transition AND it is another transition at the end of the period ….we just don’t see that piece. So kids who need transition time will drag their feet.
Think about a 2-3 transition time at the beginning of class where they are silent and read or are silent and listen to music in the TL…giving them a little time to change languages and change personas…
I have been trying the “go to the back of the classroom” in one class lately. As Ben says, it doesn’t work. But I’d love any ideas about this–it’s a mild case of another posting–the school safety one. I have a kid who got ejected from an immersion program when he was several years younger because of his behavior. Separately, I’ve heard about a scary kid ever since. Now I’m finally putting together that the one in my room is the awful bully I’ve heard about. He seems to me to be malevolent. Hate to say that about a kid, but he is viciously mean to others (and he’s only 13). I write his mom, and she comes in and watches, and he acts perfect. So the ED label that means he’s allowed to be in the room despite behavior that affects everyone else doesn’t really seem to me to be accurate because he’s capable of control. His language is excellent because he had an immersion program earlier, and he’s quite talented. But he can’t stop blurting in English, because he wants to make sure everyone understands him (I’m assuming that, of course). In the meantime, the air in that room is not good. For the first time in years, I dread a class, because I don’t know how he’s going to run it. And run it he does. I’m thinking of two things: one is to have a video camera set up so that I can catch him “tripping” over kids and stepping on their legs and belongings as he does. I don’t think I can catch his under-breath mean comments.
Maybe he is actually ED–usually I just tell kids how a class is going to go, and it does. With him, it doesn’t. It’s a totally different classroom, because the kids can’t trust that I’m going to keep them safe from being harassed.
I’ve tried to change him out to a different teacher’s class–the immersion program’s upper level–but the teacher there says that he’s not advanced enough (and she’s the one who got him removed from the other program). I am going to ask the counselor to come in and observe, but I have a feeling that all the behaviors will just go away if another adult is in there.
I am sure there are some things I’m not thinking of, so any ideas would be welcome.
Just a personal comment. We don’t get paid enough to put up with this shit on a daily basis. You are being asked to deal with a sociopathic personality, along with the other students in the class, for relatively low compensation.
Another comment – it just seems so unfair for that other teacher to just say, “Oh no, you’ve got him!” to you, and you have no choice in such a serious decision.
Your narrative is direct and honest. You are direct and honest. Perhaps you can have a meeting with ALL involved, in particular the principal, counseling team, parents, the kid, and just express to them what you wrote so honestly above. I’m serious, you are not getting paid enough to breathe the foul air that this hurting child is bringing into your classroom each day.
And what about the principal here? Is this not worth their notice? You have a potential Columbine in your classroom. Where are the adults in your building, making you bear the brunt of this situation? Are they occupied with more important things like meetings about test design or pep rallies or bake sales when you are dealing with this kid by yourself?
It’s a wonder that we even continue in this profession when faced with such darkness every day. God bless you. You have battlefield courage.
Another comment. When problems aren’t dealt with at the level of the family, because the messages coming through the more important television set control what happens at home regarding the raising of children, those problems get dumped into the social system, which includes the schools. The legal system and the school system will eventually break down under the weight of the failure of the family unit in our country. Maybe they already have.
We can’t educate kids like that kid anymore. The cost is too high. We will lose too many creative educators and end up with a kind of national teaching corps that rather resembles prison guards. I know few teachers that are happy in their jobs.
October is when this stuff usually comes up. The honeymoon months of August and September are over, the year stretches out before us, and we dig in our heels, put our snow tires on our cars, and get ready for the winter grind. Many of us feel very alone.
We can’t deal with your situation, M, but we certainly can send, via the internet or the “inner” net of loving thoughts, our empathy and hopefully some real ideas to help you. Most of us will deal with at least one of these situations in our careers, and in that, at least, there is some degree of solace that we in fact are not really alone.
Thank you so much for sharing not only this situation, but your concerns. This is the real teaching world that we work in. Not every day perhaps, but over the course of our careers we will find ourselves in this very stressful situations.
Ben is right, you have been put in what appears to be a no-win situation. Sometimes there are things we can do, sometimes there are not. You have brought your concerns here in a very professional way….and it was wise to do so. Given what we have, we can help you, without you putting yourself in danger of exposing yourself, your administration or your students in the limelight. In fact, bring it here may result in more honest feedback, because no one here is invested in any way in this situation.
First, make a list of people who you believe should receive documentation about the situation. The principal, the dean, the guidance counselor, the nurse, the school security officer and anyone else in your building who, down the road, might say…gee..I didn’t know…. Make sure that your union rep or president is on that list and that you don’t blind copy that name. Let the powers that be know that you are honestly trying to be supportive of this child, but that you will not withhold information from the people who have your welfare, and those of your colleagues in their job description. (sadly, this is not always your admin, or even your union folks, but if it is documented, there will be protection for you down the road if, God forbid, you should need it).
Draft a concise letter to these folks stating (even if they have heard it before) your concerns in a politically correct but direct and professional way. Do not be afraid to say that your experience and instincts as a teacher are telling you that this child is under stress and has the POTENTIAL to harm himself or others. Put in writing that you care about this student and you want to make sure that he receives not only the best possible education, but also the best possible emotional environment, BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT SCHOOLS SHOULD DO, and you are sure that the folks to whom you are writing have the same goal in mind. (ok…don’t use my caps though :o) )
Identify the student by name and be sure to also state the period in which you teach him and in which room you teach.
Bullet your reasons in a clear, succinct manner.
* list specific incidents in which you have observed malevolent behavior
* state that he does not behave in such a way when a parent/admin is present (this is important because it does demonstrate that he can, at least for short periods, control his behavior and may be manipulative which is one typical behavior of some mental health diagnoses.
* state how other students are responding (avoiding him, avoiding responding in class etc.)
Finish with a restatement of the fact that you have concerns, you will be documenting everything so that this child will receive the best education and situation possible, and that you look forward to working with all of them regarding this student this year.
Do not refer to any rumors you may have heard, or even situations that have occured in the past unless they occurred in your room…it will be seen as gossip or hearsay..and if a parent should read the letter (and that is very likely to happen) you will not be seen as a gossip and tale-teller.
In this way you have very clearly and professionally identified the problem to all involved. You have not demanded anything…in fact, you haven’t even asked for anything , yet. But you have opened the door for that to happen without anyone being put on the defensive.
Then, without singling him out, make sure that a new seating chart takes place and that this student is near where you are in the classroom, preferably by the door. Teach with your door open whenever possible . This will put him in a position to be observed with discretion by someone else, if necessary. It will also give him the subtle message that you know that he knows how to work and audience and that you are the only audience that he needs to be concerned about. If he is as bright as I suspect he is, he’ll figure that out.
A front seat will also involve this bright kid in what is going on….and he will be able to take a useful role in class from this position. Ask him to be a scribe and write the stories as they occur or facts that you can use for a quiz. Ask him to be the “summary” man…whenever the class seems to be losing focus, you will ask him to retell the story for the class so that they can rejoin you. It will be a positive focus for him and a change for the kids and will refocus them. Thank him honestly but not profusely.
See if you can find out what his interests are. An occasional conversation about a sports team, a musical interest etc. can go a long way to rewrite the relationship as it now stands….and you both need that.
Be content with small strides. This child is in pain, somewhere….for some reason. You cannot fix him nor change him. In fact, your polite but kind interest may be uncomfortable for him at first. For years he has been able to control all of his relationships with his behavior….some folks would prefer to be feared and disliked by controlling others rather than take the chance to be unloved for who they are.
In the end, this may be a situation that you have to “get through”. It may feel like a lose-lose all year long. Even more reason to walk the walk personally and professionally all year long. If nothing else, you will model for the other kids in the class a dignified and caring response which offers opportunity but defines borders for appropriate behavior…even in the face of intimidation.
Your instincts may be right in that this child has the potential to be extremely dangerous. I too have had those kids. It is not easy…especially when others do not see, or more accurately do not WANT to see or REFUSE to see that.
Also…if your district offers any workshops or access to workshops about hard-to-handle or emotional disturbed students, ask for permission and support to go. You will continue to send a message to the powers that be that this need exists and you may arm yourself with some very important tools.
In the meantime….know that you have our love, support and prayers.
Thanks, Ben. I have never felt alone in the TPRS world in part because of you. But I hate feeling undermined in a classroom when all I want is to talk with children and let them develop their creativity while their brains knit together a second (or third) language. You express my frustrations exactly.
I agree with all written above. You shouldn’t have to put up with that, but we don’t live in the world of should.
There’s a quick I read this last summer that keeps cropping up for me “Unacceptable – (minus) consequences = acceptable.” If you can’t get administration support for consequences, then make your own.
Sit down with him (after school, so its on his time, not yours) and read aloud to him a letter you have written to his parents that he needs to return signed. (I like doing this because I can be painfully precise in print whereas I can sometimes let them off the hook in person; it shouldn’t be about how much nerve you can bring up, but what facts you can bring to bear). Make sure a copy of the signed letter and all subsequent updates are given to your administrator.
As Laurie noted,document every single thing that happens, from intimidation to just plain rudeness. If he is getting in the way of just one other child’s learning, document the incident from that child’s perspective. What you’re doing here is establishing patterns that even the perpetrator himself (or herself) may not recognize.
Also in the letter spell out your plan for intervention including whatever gradated consequences will come into play the longer the problem continues. Have a continuum that he can earn his way both up and down, and make sure he knows where he is at any given time. My basic intervention includes regular updates for parents at regular intervals, detailing whatever backsliding or progress the student has made. On bad days, there is an automatic phone call home. Students don’t believe you will do this consistently until about the third call/report, so keep at it.
If you can’t get him out of the class, don’t forget about Bryce’s alternative for unwilling students listed on the resources page of Ben’s site. https://benslavic.com/documents/Alternative-for-Unwilling-Students.doc
This gives you leverage that you can enforce yourself.
Doing this letter and documentation is a slog, and it creates extra work, but it has worked for me with some particularly stubborn students who are starting to move once they realize I mean it. I even got an apology at the beginning of class after one phone call home; first apology I’ve ever gotten from this kid.
Thanks both to Laurie and Nathan. You are both incredible support, and once again, I am SO glad I have this forum! (I was writing back to Ben and must have hit submit right after Laurie…so didn’t acknowledge her then.)
Thanks for reminding me of the steps to take. I am going to print out these letters and start walking the walk. It’s a very difficult one for me. I have been saving the e-mails that I have written to the mom. But now I will start documenting the daily actions and turn in the kid each time, whether he faces consequences or not, to have a paper trail on top of everything else you are suggesting.
What wonderful advice! It means so much to me to have a community of peers who are willing to help each other like this.