Semi Rant on NT

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34 thoughts on “Semi Rant on NT”

  1. I believe we all know that aquisition and learning cannot be forced in the long run. Even if the structure and words stuck after 80 reps, what would happen in a free write when the focus is on the message and not on the language? It’s obvious, isn’t it?
    Did we really acquire our MT from our parents using 80 reps?

  2. Bryan Whitney

    …and, if the language acquisition process is truly simple and natural, it follows that the language “teaching” process is also natural and simple, and doesn’t require tons and tons of training (and money). If anything we have to unlearn a lot of what we have picked up as teachers, and relearn how to connect with others on a personal level and care for, inspire, encourage, and support each other and our students. Also, how to keep ourselves healthy and sane so that we still have something to give. I can also see sharing stories and ideas for how we connect best with our students and our own passions in the classroom and in life. This is future professional development that I can get behind!

    1. Fully agreed, Bryan!!!
      After 27 years of teaching I have the unshakable belief and feeling that the connection with others on a personal level is the basis for everything. If we are not interested in our students and live the quality of the heart, the classroom will be an uncomfortable place for them, to say the least.

  3. Amen to this Bryan:

    “Also, how to keep ourselves healthy and sane so that we still have something to give. I can also see sharing stories and ideas for how we connect best with our students and our own passions in the classroom and in life. This is future professional development that I can get behind!”

    We spend so much time and energy on “how to engage students” and whatnot, completely forgetting that we need to recharge ourselves first. When we are constantly tired, cranky, behind on paperwork, assessments, data, etc. it shows up in our rooms whether we try to hide it or not. We can’t hide our exhaustion any more than we can hide an agenda to “cover the indirect object pronouns.”

    I’m so looking forward to creating simple organizational structure to my classes so I can retain my energy and balance my life! Otherwise I am not so sure about what I model to the students…hm…lack of sleep…poor nutritional choices…too much caffeine…all work and no play…etc. The kids have a staggering load these days, with sports, work, school musical, concerts, benchmark assessments, projects, etc. I do what I can to lighten the load and lighten the vibe.

    The post a couple weeks ago about “May activities” really hit home for me and was such a relief to remember that I don’t need to force anything! Just pick the simplest / most fun thing from the menu that will work best on that day with the kids.

  4. Sean M Lawler

    That’s what I was thinking about too, Bryan, as I was reading Ben’s post here, that not much training or expertise is needed, then, to teach a foreign language. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are nuances we bring that we don’t realize.

    This relates to classroom management and getting our students engagement. I’m looking forward to talking more about that.

    1. …this relates to classroom management and getting our students engaged….

      Sean after all these years I really see how artificial it all is re: management. The fact is that we are being put in a totally artificial, fake situation. 35 or so kids in a room with us. It’s a wonder that hell doesn’t break out every day in all our classrooms. It’s crazy. The only way it works is via fear, as prisons work on breaking kids and keeping them fearful.

      The only high cards we have in our hand are the Classroom Rules, which is the Queen of Clubs, and engaging our students, the Ace of Hearts. So yeah, now it looks like NT, which is the high road to the heart, is going to really need to get a close look by us this summer. When you only have two cards that have any potential of winning the hand, it doesn’t give us a big chance but at least we have a chance.

      Once we dump the idol of assessment, which is really about control, we will win more hands.

      1. Bryan Whitney

        To the classroom management piece I would also add that making connections with students and showing that you care about them, as you model respect is huge. If most of the class feels like you care about them, and that you are doing your best the vast majority will also be respectful in turn. Of course, we are working against a very messed up system, but we also have a lot of flexibility to make class about our students and their interests (as well as ours). The personalization piece is a massive part as well.

      2. Sean M Lawler

        Ben spoke to the use of assessment as a tool for classroom management. Bryan spoke to making connections, modeling respect, relating to kids, as a tool.

        I agree, Ben, that assessments, and grades, don’t usually work as a tool for getting kids to value the class and put in their effort. I agree that we have to connect, personalize, and relate to kids.

        That said, I strive for an ideal where students can sustain attention without disruptions for 20 min sessions in the TL. I need more than my good looks and charismatic personality to sustain their attention. I need more than a good story, though a good story, one that I personally am interested in telling, is probably the best source of classroom management.

        Yes, the student jobs are marvelous. I’m working on making more of these. (I bought a sound effects noise maker a month ago. Canned laughter. Snoring sounds. Crying sounds. Etc. As a job, the “sound effects guru” pushes the right button at the right time or loses the little machine.)

        And jGR (ICSR) is marvelous. Constant reference to jGR helps students remember how to put in their effort.

        Perhaps part of my issue is that I teach 87 minute classes. I know. There are so many factors, like desk-less sitting or no. But I have to think carefully about this going into next year. Granted, I started at my current school just before Winter Break, but I don’t feel like I got the kind of consistent sustained attention from students that I would have liked.

        To go back to Bryan’s point, I think our ability to manage our classrooms of kids does, actually, require a degree of expertise, training, and, most-importantly, fair compensation! (I’ve heard that at the University of Chicago Lab Schools they pay their foreign language teachers less than their other teachers 🙁

        1. My deep conviction is that we can’t get “consistent sustained attention” from students, that it is not possible and so we must do what we can and then drop the idea of achieving it. It’s not because of us, but the broken system.

          If I’m right, it gives new meaning to what some (most?) teachers go through every day. I do know that with the Invisibles I saw some pretty amazing things that went WAY beyond the fact that the kids were from privileged families.

          1. They can fake attention but only they know if they’re paying attention. They can pose their bodies like statues of attentive little angels while their minds are off gallivanting through other pastures far away. So it’s truly impossible to tell if they are or they aren’t. In the moment. From their behavior. It’s only through the energy they put forth that shows they’re attentive. And that’s not so easy to see. It must be felt. I don’t often get it but I know it when it comes round. That pure feeling of everyone’s being together. Most days they’re cycling in and out on their own initiative. We are fooling ourselves people if we think we can coerce their attention. The only thing we can do is make it as compelling as we can. And what compels the strongest? Love and acceptance. THAT is all we need to cultivate. Live acceptance and slow easy speech.

          2. That’s why I like the new rubrics. We’re going to have to go down and deep on assessment in Portland but I know that there are also round tables on equity. Comments from Tina?

          3. Can we start the discussion here? Then we can put flame to the water in Portland. And keep cooking all summer!

          4. But not now. I spent the day under the trees with them cause it is so hot in my room. And I watched them dally over their books and we visited. It’s all I can do right now. Just in the interest of full disclosure.

          5. I agree Tina. That new rubrics thing you invented is too much for this time of year. We’ll cover how jGR morphed into mGR and then this in June. Nice mental health move. Mental health is #1 here, after all.

          6. Sean M Lawler

            You got your students to a place where they can read for extended time, Tina. You deserve the break to sit back and enjoy the birds chirp as they read during your class.

          7. Ditto Ben and Tina. Its silly to believe on can get attention 100% of the time but CI is very poweful even to the avid day dreamer. I has to do much with the realtionship piece however, one teacher cannot be the most compelling provider of CI to each and every student. There are too factors. In my class i let the dreamers tune in and out, the floaters float and the usually 4 kids over participating to get called on. I’m sure other classes look the same way. Kids have been trained and molded to act a certain way in class. I wonder if its even possible for students to unlearn some of these assumptions about learning in a CI classroom. .. i deal with way too many serious students who want explicit teaching, memorization, intensive vocabulary, speech practice, note taking etc… some of these are the quiet ones who write me anonymous notes.

        2. Sean M Lawler

          Thanks for the responses. I think what I need to do next year is have more conversations with students about how to be warm and supportive of each other. I need to highlight examples of how I see certain students building community and praise them. This needs to be done a regular basis, and intentionally. Maybe it will involve me reflecting with students at the end of class and/or at the beginning of the next day’s class about who was supportive towards interacting in the L2 and how.

          1. Sean M Lawler

            So many students put up their guard, their force-field, during foreign language class. They fear surrendering themselves to the L2 conversation. Our conversations are so much more – what’s the word – wholesome than the conversations they’re used to having. I need to work on making sure that students don’t criticize or disparage their peers for responding in the L2. Students can do and say some pretty subtle things that are meant to disparage each other.

          2. Sean you have some good observations. 1) Having students be supportive OF EACH OTHER (sorry, I dont know how to bold text) and 2) Students saying and doing things to disparage each other. Yes. Some of my students become pretty competitive and knock each other down when providing answers, or translations but usually it is only 1 kid in each class. I stop that right away. To this day, I have only corrected my students twice or three times total. So modeling can go a long way but there needs to be the expectation in the beginning of the year that we learn through listening and reading and that corrections are very limited.

          3. Sean M Lawler

            Thank you Steven and Ben. Unfortunately, so many of my students have, over the years, become so accustomed to disparaging each other that it’s become a norm. Granted, a lot of that has to do with my school culture. As you say, I have to be more vigilant in addressing such remarks or behaviors.

            But I also feel the need to be more specific when I praise students for their responses, or their acting, or the other ways they contribute to the co-narration and flow of the story. I need to do more than just say, “Give an applause for _____ and her acting, class!” I need to say announce more like, “Thank you ____ for how your acting was quickly executed and reflected what was said. And thank you for patiently waiting between acting scenes as we worked through some of the details as a class. Bravo! Give an applause, please, class!”

          4. Urban Chicago. Think about that.

            Sean, all you need to do IMHO is show up for work. That’s it. Be the kind and gentle educator with those kids whom I know and have seen on video with them. Just be that. You need not “should” yourself, that you should do this or do that. Yes, continue to hone your craft. But don’t put any pressure on yourself.

            Urban CI teachers like you are in many cases dealing with a set of circumstances that is so different from the norm that I am convinced that we get extra help from the angels. I don’t know if that is true for a fact, if God sends extra angelic troops to the war zone districts, but He may. It’s not for me to say.

            But I do know that in urban Denver and urban Charleston, SC I felt many times buoyed up by invisible forces when I was slashed (in the invisible world) by kids who had never grown up with enough food, proper housing, amidst drugs all over the place, some in houses where drugs were common, and who certainly never had the chance to converse with their parents at the dinner table and learn how to do that.

            No, Sean, my heart is so soft for you because I know where you teach and where my own bruised heart has spent many many years in similar settings. What you are doing is unique. So you must be a unique person. And you are. You have my deepest professional and personal respect, as much as anyone in our group, in terms of those of us who go back so many years.

            Sorry about the rant, but I have wanted to say this for a long time, because you are actually doing the impossible. You are taking CI into places where few of us can. So whatever you do in class is good and great. Kind of lost track of my point amidst a compelling feeling of respect for you and what you do every day. OK rant over.

          5. Sean M Lawler

            *Blushing* By the way, remember that cold, all-business administrator that called you when I was applying for this job? Well, she quit on us four weeks before the end of the school year. Thing is, it’s a relief that she is gone. And other teachers feel the same way. The two standing administrators at my school have several years of Chicago teaching experience behind them. They are wonderful to work with. This other lady… well, she came from Florida. She didn’t know what she was getting into.

          6. I remember trying hard to get a self-reflection piece going at the end of class – an actual discussion of “how we did that day” on jGR. The poster was up, I was ready to do that, but then the story or quiz or whatever was too hard to stop and we never really did it.

            And yet, Sean, I should have stopped class to do that class discussion. I should have given them the jGR self rating square of paper that they used as an exit ticket ten min. before the end of class and not 1 min. – I think that is Grant’s format, can’t remember. It’s on here somewhere.

            At the beginning it would of course be like pulling teeth and we would want to bail. Kids do not know how to do that. But it is a necessary skill in the workplace. Maybe do the discussion 3′ before the end of class and let them sit there. Gradually, as trust builds, we might could get it done. I know that jen shongalla does a lot of this kind of thing. It’s what she does. Maybe she’ll chime in. It’s just that with the Invisibles now I’ve got every minute scheduled and there ain’t enough of them.

            But still, how else are they going to learn about their unique place in the group, its importance, how important they are to the group process*, unless we talk about it. So many of us in CI instruction assume things that we should not assume about kids’ preparation to be in a reciprocal/participatory setting. Most don’t know what it’s like to have dinner with family any more. (I need to pray on that one!) And in class most teachers don’t give them this opportunity even if they wanted because they have to cover so much material.

            *Sorry to keep plugging the Invisibles and NT so heavily but honestly before in my career I never realized how unique and important each kid is to a class. What I was doing before – targeted stories – didn’t let me see that but now it does.

      3. I’m certain that my young students don’t feel like in prison. Some of them come after class and ask if we could do more English, please.
        I still believe that school can be a safe place where making errors is just fine and my dream is that schools become places for living and learning in as much freedom as possible bc the great majority of kids would like to learn when we cater to their interests and stop the assessment-craze.

          1. Yes. Though I teach at a gifted school, it is still in the heart of urban poverty stricken Fresno. So the influence manifests in a complicated school dress code (that I still do not get), bars on windows, an officer on campus and an occasional campus lockdown for crimes happening locally.

          2. Bars on windows? Campus lockdown?

            Oh my god, now I feel like living in paradise and I’m just beginning to glean a speck of the importance you people put on equity. So far I thought that the movies being set in a high school environments were exaggerated bc of the need for dramatizing and action but now they seem to be pretty real.

          3. In my last building we could have security or the on-site Denver Police Officer in our rooms in minutes. The city cop parked his car at the entrance to the school to remind people he was there as they walked into the building. And even here in the suburbs where I live not two minutes from where I am sitting there is a parking place for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s squad car at the doors of Columbine High School. We live in a gun culture. We are not safe. Ever. So that contributes to my praise of Sean and the others in our group who teach in physical danger. The one thing that I learned to do which was very hard in my career was to stop trying to break up fights. I got hurt too many times. Those young kids are strong! One thing about Europe – you don’t have those guns all over the place.


          4. Thanks so much for giving me more knowledge and especially a better feel for the athmosphere in your country. I appreciate it very much!!!

            And yes, we are so lucky to not have a gun culture.

          5. I believe you and I suppose I myself wouldn’t last a single year under those circumstances. My heart goes out to all of these teachers who do it for the kids although they get their feelings thrashed time and again.

            To me this sounds almost like a ticket to burn-out. Do you have any idea how high the burn-out rate is?

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    There is a fear in many schools (& among many stakeholders) that pleasure and joy mean ease (not rigor) and time wasted on folly. It’s not only in poor urban districts that are trying to raise scores and improve their data, but also small, elite, private, parochial and suburban schools trying to place more kids at good colleges…for their reputation.
    If not like crowd control prisons, then they are run like bean counting businesses. I have told y’all how fortunate I feel to be working more ‘under the radar’ in elementary school. Well my husband, a social studies HS teacher, has worked in Richie McWhite public HS as well as working class diverse public high school and much prefers the latter (where he is now)- where he feels he has the latitude and support to connect with kids as individuals and humans first. That’s what we signed up for 25+ years go- not endless sorting, winnowing, analyzing, comparing and polishing….

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