Seating Change

Meg asks the group:
I have a class that used to be super chatty and is still a bit on that side/disrespectful. But with new seating today, NOBODY raised hands with suggestions for our OWI. I should have given suggestions, or done a turn and talk, but I was so seething I had to go to silent work and table it. Has the sudden dead silence ever happened to anyone else, and how’d you conquer it? I am praying for patience and doing Diana Winston’s meditations 2x/day in the meantime!
My response:
It could be a class move on you. They act like it’s the new seating arrangement. But they know each other. That’s not it. They don’t know how to/are not allowed to protest that they done’ want to be in school after a long break. Plus, my sense is. that there is a ring leader. They are taking cues from that student. Your response is to not let them see you seethe of course. (By the way, oh do I know that feeling of seething!) Instead, (1) go right away to a writing-based bail out move (see that category to the right of this page – some are outdated. The extreme example is one month to two months of the textbook. It has worked TWICE this year w PLC members, one in Sept. and one in Oct. (2) use Story Listening (there are some posts on it here and in the Natural Approach book – tell me if you can’t find anything but I think you know it) because SL doesn’t require that they speak/provide answers. Make the story 35 min. long. Give a quiz on it, prepared beforehand, half way through and another one at the end. Two quizzes on what you told them in SL. All five classes same story at different speeds. Same quizzes until they figure that out then write five classes and catch cheaters if necessary (probably won’t be) (3) use the Reading Rubric in A Natural Approach appendices to grade them on what you observed them doing during Free Choice Reading. (4) give them an interpersonal skills grade for each class. You will have to grade them down if all they are doing is looking at you like a bunch of dumb clucks. That’s four grades in each class. Yeah, busier for you, but they will have to change into the behaviors you want. For example, when they ask why no more stories in the pre-break way, tell them that they weren’t doing their 50% and you need for them to show up in class if their grades are to come back up.
Others who have insights on this excellent question are requested to throw in on this. There are many answers.
Kind of related:
which includes this long rant on the topic Meg brings up:
…these kids have been trained for years to be bored. It takes a lot of talent to be bored, to get really good at communicating that to a teacher. You have to go against every instinct to be joyful that you once had as a younger kid. If something wonderful and joyful and unexpected happens in class, you, as a professional bored kid, have to be able to suppress your own urge to react with like joy. You have to fully agree with most of your recent teachers – perhaps beginning in about 4th or 5th grade, that your voice isn’t all that necessary, that you yourself don’t count for much in the class, that how you score on the test is really the goal of it all, etc. Such kids as that are trained FOR YEARS to be boring. No language teacher like you, Brian, is going to come along and ruin it for them and require them to actually be a human being who can listen and be a part of, say, something as crazy as the co-creation of something in class. How uncool!
…can you recommend any thing these students can be DOING while listening…?
Think about that one, Brian. I would suggest this outlandish idea – that they listen and let you know that they are understanding with an expression of good will on their faces (Yes…good will!) or, if they don’t understand, of course letting you know that at every juncture. One of those two things. If a kid is zoning out, that is a refusal to participate and reveals so much more than the kid wants you to know about their zoning out. It is not that they are tired. Rather, they sense a humanness in the room that makes them uncomfortable. They DON’T KNOW HOW TO REACT TO THE INCREASED LEVEL OF HUMAN INTERACTION IN THE ROOM because they probably haven’t experienced it before. For so long they have been rewarded for being robots, it is so easy to do, no expression on face needed, and now you request that they show up and be human? They’d rather act like sleep has them. But it is not sleep. It is fear of being human, being vulnerable, being able to love and laugh and display all those qualities that we beat out of them in school. My hardest class right now has so few real kids, so many robots, so many suffering kids, that I actually have to entertain myself during class. I interact with my own superstar Mini Me Ben and he laughs and we have a grand old time together right there in class with all the dead people. I have never before had a class where not one single kid wanted to play, so I just do it that way interacting with my stand-in superstar. I rather like Mini Me Ben. He’s a good kid. The dead kids don’t know what to make of him, but he doesn’t care. I told him to fly his freak flag all he wants in class, in life, even if Susan Gross walks in on one of our presentations at a conference, and he is getting better and better at it.
…any thoughts on the idea of giving them the chance to write down, throughout some CI discussion, all that they are understanding – maybe even on some sort of organized (dare I say it…) graphic organizer…?
No. Nothing on the desks. You can’t escape showing up. No notes. Never. That would undermine your job of creative interplay in the target language and would be exactly what they want, a place to hide in a notebook. No and double no on that idea, in my opinion.
…of course, they would have to follow strict adherence to a rule that says no extraneous doodling or writing….
Good luck with that one. That is a failed rule before it starts.
…how can I help their attention span and their motivation to be engaged…?
Dude you don’t have to do that. You can’t do that. That firmly comes under the heading that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make her drink. You are a teacher and not a person whose job it is to change them. If they are incapable of doing the class then fail them. They can drop at the semester or, if they get lucky, maybe a parent will “get” what you are doing and see the rare chance for their child to cease being a self absorbed memorizer little Fauntleroy shit and to become a person with actual human traits, like being able to listen. Do you really see that as YOUR responsibility? That’s phucked up. Your job in these situations is to teach kids who are not yet human what failure is all about on the communicative level so that, by doing that now, they learn THE most valuable skill in the job market, communication, empathy, how to listen, all of that. But all YOU have to do is deliver the CI. Just teach the class. Make your CI the best you can and then forgive yourself for not having 10 years of experience with this stuff. My gosh what we put on ourselves. Some little kid has zero ability at this point in their life to interact with us in class and we think it’s our fault and that we are boring. That is so not true.
…what about those students that do not signal and are not understanding…?
Well you can coddle them and suck up to them but the fact is those bored and non-comprehending faces are the result of a calculated decision made out of the realm of their conscious minds to opt out of the interpersonal stuff going on in your classroom. They just can’t do it. The vibration in the room is just too high for them. And what is your question here? You want to know how to get a fence post to laugh and interact with you? Trust me, those posts can and will laugh but not until THEY decide, not you, and certainly not because you go over to them and start doing jumping jacks. Gradually they will learn to trust you. They have been ripped off by teachers for years, also. Give time for trust to re-appear in their hearts. Again, you are taking too much on yourself and denying THEM the opportunity to actually learn this crucial thing in their education that they may have never had a chance to learn before, step by step, one class at a time, FROM YOU. Trying on new behaviors is hard for kids. THEY will decide when to take the shields down and let some light into their eyes. Not one single teacher may have ever asked this of them! Give them a break. What they need is a nice big series of zeroes on the interpersonal rubric and a nice big fat bunch of low grades, preferable F’s, to get the ball rolling. The failing grade is their ticket to success. Only when the first term F is posted (I had at least 30% fails in the first term – it is always that way, it means you mean business. Then the parent call that results from the F jolts the kid into your way of doing things. If the parent is conscious, which depends entirely on how you explain the F – in terms of current research and standards and not in terms of any fault in the kid – THERE IS NONE – then the hard fails of the first term gives way to one or maybe two kids dropping, and many others stepping up to the plate, and then each month things get better and you have taught the kids something far more important that a language, you have taught them that if they don’t show up for life they will fail at life, which is a very strong message that they DO NOT get from most of their teachers, where it is not about developing listening skills and becoming human, but about grades. Good grades don’t bring success in life. Being a human being does.



10 thoughts on “Seating Change”

  1. Meg another option is challenging to do, but I love it. Just enjoy yourself and ignore them. You could do a NT story or regular targeted one or SL but the main thing is to act like you’re talking to your Mini Me. It’s written up in detail somewhere.
    Another option is to use the jobs. When an artist is grooving on making a drawing and your other jobs are cranking, they can’t act like nothing is interesting. And use that VIDEOGRAPHER to train the camera on their bored and sulking selves in class. They will object but this film is for you only, to “work on your teaching skills” and to “keep track of kids for grading them later.” The jobs serve in so many ways against quiet, energy sucking, oppositional kids.

  2. As much as we feed on the energy of the students, I think you’ll come to realize over some time with teaching that students don’t always put on their best faces for us. To say the least. If I were you, I would take advantage of this time where students are protesting in silence to tell stories, or to create your own OWI. Maybe you’ll get one student to give a nice response when you ask for a detail. Just one student that day. And the next, maybe a couple of students. Wouldn’t that be nice. Perhaps their protesting will help you turn upside down their habits of being disruptive.
    You might be feeling like, well, if someone were to observe my class and no student is speaking, their going to think that something is awfully wrong and no one is learning. I understand. Let that feeling go. Take advantage of this time to re-norm the class. Let the students see that you enjoy talking to them. That you don’t need their cute details, necessarily.
    You could also run a dictation. Dictations for me can easily last 30 minutes.

  3. Sean,
    Yours is a great response to the problem and question posed here! One of the greatest skills in teaching is the ability to stop / turn on a dime. I have switched gears several times when a particular day sees a class become like a stubborn donkey who has already decided to stop and stay in its tracks. Dictations, quizzes, finishing the story on my own, etc. have been among my first go-to ideas.
    Typically for me, when there’s been a problem, classes have just naturally zoned out for one or a couple of days. I understand that. I sometimes feel a little “off” and can’t muster the enthusiasm to meet the day with a bounce in my step and a beaming smile on my face. It happens and sometimes it happens to several influential people on the same day. That’s usually not the teacher’s fault. Remember, you’re not responsible for the circumstances, only for your response to those circumstances. It’s in these instances that I go to the simple substitutions above.
    However, one of my classes did the long-term shutout bit this school year and I finally resorted to textbook and worksheets until we’re all blue in the face. I hate it and they do too (they say), but it’s the only way they’ll cooperate. I think there were many problematic dynamics in that particular class section: 1. We had 30 students. 2. Many of them have spent way too much time together at home and in the locker room and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses way too well. 3. As in the post above, “The vibration in the room is just too high for them.” They can’t keep hands off each other, can’t resist making nasty jokes, etc. 4. The strongest players in the group definitely fall under the category of “kids who are not yet human” and embrace the ability to continue to behave as such.
    That whole semester of being immovable for weeks and weeks and weeks on the textbook has shown that they were trying to call my bluff and it turned out there was no bluff. The mix of students and sheer number of students have changed significantly this semester as a result. I’m hopeful that this change will bring a new wave in class behavior and it has already resulted in the remaining students being more cooperative. I’m planning to ease them back into CI as long as they continue to show signs of emphasis on being “not YET human” rather than emphasis on the “NOT”.
    In short, I’d say use a good measure of grace for yourself and your students, but a firmness of hand if they don’t budge.

  4. Thank you Angela this is so well put. I feel just fine in working from the book for months if necessary. If I give them even five minutes of building an OWI or something at the end of class, it is my gift to them. If they don’t want it, I am good with giving them more rocks/worksheets. The worst is when they sense we want something. Even one kid can turn them all against us, overpowering the kids who would welcome the CI gift. It’s too bad for those kids who want to learn, but I give the class the rocks anyway. Eventually it rights itself.
    Your point here is so well taken: “That whole semester of being immovable for weeks and weeks and weeks on the textbook has shown that they were trying to call my bluff and it turned out there was no bluff.”

  5. Yesterday was the first time that I really showed my sixth graders by doing and not by admonishing them hat I meant business: I was going to do SL and while I was writing the heading of the story on the board there was blurting again and silly remarks and loud chatting. Some were rather restless that day and although I had managed to bring them back to silent attention again and again, they just wouldn’t stop. So I noticed, I didn’t feel like telling the story in this kind of atmosphere and I erased the eading and calmly told them to get out their pens for a dictation – boy, oh boy, did that change their behavior.
    I wouldn’t have dared doing this before joining the PLC, thinking I had to ‘teach’ whatever the cost to my personal well-being.
    I believe this PLC is the best teacher training I ever got and probably will get in Germany!!!

    1. Udo said:
      ..the first time that I really showed my sixth graders by doing and not by admonishing….
      I have been thinking that the time for admonishing is just over in our field. It’s just over. It’s old, done. Du vieux jeu. No more admonishing bc we don’t have to. I like that! Instead, we just change the activity. Getting them writing is so powerful. Done! Thanks for this report, Udo.

    2. Udo, I did the same thing in December with a group of 7th graders. I was doing an activity about St. Nicholas Day and some of the kids kept blurting and interrupting me. I stopped it and made them do a quick write. The other kids were so mad at them!

      1. Yes, it’ so important for those kids to experience adults who know what and why they want to do sth and won’t bow to their kind of manipulating and struggling against it with words.
        By now I truly believe they need us to experience feeling safe and supported but we can only achieve this if we ourselves are not giving in to nonsensical behavior by which I mean behaving like grown-up people should and not those who are only grown up with regard to their age but not their inner being.

  6. what would I do without you guys?! The textbook suggestion is a great one. I don’t have any in my classroom—any suggestions? I think maybe even using Martina Bex’s Grammar in context, might be a good option. I also need to do dictée, ashamed to say I haven’t even tried it!

    1. Yeah Meg – “Instant Dictee” is a powerful way to immediately take the right to doing a listening activity/story/whatever away from the class. The entire class has to do the dictee even if only one kid is acting out. It is very powerful. In these pages over all the years there are so many options described. Tina and I tried to keep it simple in the Bite Size Book of Classroom Management, and we couldn’t find all of them anyway among the 7000 posts and 53,000 comments. Oh well.

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