Sit Up and All That

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21 thoughts on “Sit Up and All That”

  1. That rule has been removed from my Classroom Rules this past year because it doesn’t work. Children cannot be forced to pay attention. Even if half of them do sit up and look as if they are with us, they are very often not. We fool ourselves. We think that we can force kids to learn and perform, and we are wrong. If we could ask those kids who can’t force themselves to do that rule, that bad rule, “Why isn’t this working with you?”, some of them would answer back to us, “I can’t give you any of me because my soul is hurting about so many other things and I am scared and I can’t pay attention. Don’t take it personally. You are a good teacher. Please understand, I just don’t have that much interest in this language. I am having a hard time and all people ever do is make me do stuff and it’s hard to listen sometimes. Please don’t make me do anything. I’m suffering.”

    And then what we have to do is take this message from them, and listen to it and feel its truth. This might mean responding to them, “I see it, and you are right. I bow to your suffering. Just sit there and do the best you can, because I know you are, because I believe that everybody is doing the best they can at any given moment. When you say that you are not that interested in the language, I would agree. It is very hard for both of us. I have to stand up here and act as if I know what I am doing when in truth I kind of feel like you do and wish I could just sit back and do what you do sometimes. A lot of the time. Because being a teacher is scary. And school is scary. I am trying to make my class as interesting as I can, and please accept that I am doing my best. We are both doing our best. So I will send you some love and approval for what I do see you do, because that feels to me right now like all you want from me. That’s right, isn’t it? And to help things I will speak more slowly and I will do my best to find a way to reach you. I will not teach in a way that makes you uncomfortable and makes you perform. Just try to listen for now, o.k? I will try to make my instruction more interesting for both of us. I will simplify old tales from our culture and all you have to do is listen and maybe I will ask you to draw things and we can talk about what you drew and make stories out of that and maybe you could have a job in our community but if you don’t that is fine too. I get it. This I promise. I get it.

    “I will grade you on what I feel you are doing, not on what I see and barely on those quizzes and free writes and stuff. I will use that new rubric because it is soft on you and helps me keep you in my classroom. And in class I will try to reach you, but nobody will know. And then I will fudge your grade so you can stay with me and test me and see if my understanding and love for you is strong. Because I cannot fail you. It is not in my heart. I cannot do it. I will lie to the school just enough to keep you in the class all year, and to avoid those horrible conversations with parents and all those people who think you are lazy. I know you are just blocked, so if I fail you they will take you from me and then where will we be? You must have someone in your court, right? I will protect you while you try to get through these years. I will provide the school with quiz scores and such grades to the administration. Don’t worry, it will be our secret. I know what you can do and I will wait all year if I have to.”

    1. This is one of the most beautiful, pure writing about what compassionate teaching truly looks like. I logged knowing I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what.–but I found it in this piece.

      “I bow to your suffering.” —

      “And school is scary. I am trying to make my class as interesting as I can, and please accept that I am doing my best. We are both doing our best.”

      I am constantly reminding myself to have compassion for the children, but I think I forget to show that same compassion to myself. Thank you.

    2. I agree completely, but where/how does the updated Interpersonal Rubric fit in? Does the teacher give the grade or does the student self grade? And how often? I’ve never been good at getting this part right. After a Story Listening this week, I give full listening credit for those making eye contact, and less credit for those who put heads down.

  2. Something else is this, and it might seem kinda radical, so bear with me because it would have seemed heretical to me about 16 months ago. I have undergone an enormous shift this year in my thinking on this.

    I got rid of the rule (well, now that I come to think of it, I still have it on my rules poster cause I am not exactly going to go and cross it out during the year, but I never talk about it or enforce it.) “Suggest cute answers” this year. There are several reasons for that.

    1. It favors the louder, bolder, and more privileged kids. Some kids would rather die than suggest an idea for their peers to hear, reject, or worse, use against them. Requiring that as part of a kid’s grade just does not make me comfortable. I have done a lot of reflecting about myself in 1988, 1989, 1990, and 1991. Those were some shy, awkward, quiet, and basically petrified years for me. I was 12-15 years old. I had not yet found theatre. I had like two point five friends. I was super-creative, and highly motivated to learn Latin and French, the languages I studied in that time period. I would have never, ever, ever, EVER have volunteered any of the cute answers that were bouncing around in my head. If I had been required to do so, I am not sure if I would have, even though I was usually an A-type student. Kathrin made me think about this last summer in Agen. She was reading a book on introversion. She got me thinking about myself at that age. And I thought, “That rule is kind of bullying kids who are like me!” (Well, like me in the 80s! NOW I am pretty confident, and super-outgoing. Theatre saves lives. Art saves lives. Compassionate teachers save lives.)

    2. It is OUR responsibility to make kids want to pay attention. Beniko wants us to change the name to Compelling Comprehensible Input. We need to take responsibility for finding stories and ways to communicate and ways to build stories together, that are naturally compelling. This is just me, and I know I am pretty radical on this, but stopping the practice of repeating certain words and phrases over and over (i.e. “circling”) is the issue here. That is why we have this idea that we need to get cute ideas from the kids. We need their cute ideas like we need the ham around the doggie pill, to make the dog eat it. If we can get rid of the pill, the language we deem that the kids need to learn at that time (so unnatural anyways), then we find (or at least I do) that the language just springs back to life, and our classes can rise to a more interesting level without requiring kids to take on that responsibility.

    My husband has a culinary diploma from attending cooking school in 1999. They had to do “black box” exams, where they got a black bus tub of ingredients and had to produce a meal. It is like we are running a restaurant and we are giving the kids a black bus tub of three things, instead of th whole pantry, and then grading them on how much stuff they can go scrounge up elsewhere to make the meal taste good. When we could just use the whole pantry and then everyone would have an easier time cooking a tasty repast.

  3. I appreciate this thread so much. Monday I started semester 2, so a fresh start. I anguished about my rules poster. I want to keep it to 3 or less. I want it to be simple. I came to the same conclusions about the suggest rule, and the eye contact rule, etc. So those are out.

    I narrowed it down to these, because I had to put something up there:

    1) BE: kind, respectful, part of the group*
    2) Follow instructions immediately.
    3) One person talks, others listen.
    4) Everyone has something to teach and something to learn.**

    I may change them, but needed something so I had a framework.

    I’m training them in these rules by doing some CI via SL, CWB, OWI, stopping and smiling and pointing. I am also taking time between CI to process with them in English and reflect on how it went and what were the obstacles?

    My major focus is on the kindness “rule.” It obviously can’t be a “rule” but just today I made a strong statement on that one and how it is the foundation for everything. I had the opportunity to do this today because yesterday there were some comments that were tossed around as “jokes” but they are comments that made me sick to my stomach. I have to work on immediate actions on this (vs. reactions which I often do and can be very unstable). I kind of sat with it and decided to go all out personal on this one. I started class with a photo from my niece’s wedding this summer, with all sorts of folks from different ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. I expressed rather emotionally ( unplanned, couldn’t help it) the effect that the comments had on me. I pointed to the photo and said this person is gay, this person is from India, these people are Jewish, this guy had to leave Turkey when he was 15 and alone in the world, my dad was an immigrant, etc….

    *For this “rule” I plan to illustrate that it will look different for each person. I can’t predict what it “looks like” because each person is different. Does that make sense? It is basically the concept that “fair” does not mean “same across the board.”

    *I’m also going to point to this one in so many different contexts. Specifically, that kindness and respect begin inside and ripple out. This is not just a slogan but a practice. Every day.

    **This one is paraphrased from the core belief at my old school where I grew into a teacher. It is rooted deeply in me and informs everything I do: “No one was born for nothing. We have something to learn from everyone. This is the mystery of humility.” –Sant Kirpal Singh

    1. Jen, I like the kindness, respect thing. The one person talks, others listen is something that I have been working on after talking to some friends who teach in Quaker schools – in a large circle everyone gets a chance to speak in turn; others must listen and can give affirmations – no questions and no disagreements as I understand it. But it sounds like a social skill that needs some work!

  4. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    I am getting emboldened to dump my ‘classical’ circling and PQA in favor of all out non-targeted language usage. (I seldom target classically anymore, but I do circle and PQA still…I wanna dump it if it’s effective w/my wee ones!)
    However, and this question keeps popping up for me, though it’s been addressed on this blog and elsewhere I think – Can we start with young beginners this way – non-targeted – or do we establish a ‘survival foundation’ first and then shift to NT? I predict y’all will answer, “Skip ‘Go’ and collect $200 at the non-targeted property.”

    So here are my persistent fears:
    1. Lil kids have low tolerance for ambiguity (though they can get in the ‘flow’ state with one so readily!)
    2. Without solid literacy skills to establish/remind meaning (grades 1-2), I have fewer effective tricks (though of course I can draw and translate orally);
    3. I could try the 100% NT with the 3-4s and keep the classical practices with the 1-2s…


    1. I think you hit on it here. Elementary kids are not even close to the same as HS students. Circling kills the vibe in HS. Just talking is great though as long as they understand. I have a feeling (I’ve never taught ES) that circling would work wonderfully with the youngsters.

      I’ve been doing great with my fresh/sophs with a Matava Script and going wherever with it. I just tell them the story. I don’t circle or they check out. I repeat a few times but that’s it. I change my voice, I shout important things, I make them feel my excitement, but I can’t circle or even stop to ask more than a few questions until we are done.

      In other news: I have kids who put their head down on bad days, but I don’t get all bent out of shape about it. They still listen mostly. Especially when the rest of the class is laughing and enjoying themselves.

  5. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    thanks Jeff. I am still tinkering and wondering on this crucial point. At this time of year, I feel like I want a complete revamp of: My voice, body, hair, personality, pedagogy.
    I will continue to monitor and experiment.
    (I did change my hairstyle)

    1. I just got a hair cut and started eating more mangos. Lots of changes right now! I am really looking forward to our Cascadia Conference, which will represent a big change in the summer workshop approach, since it will be centered around NT. I am very happy to report that we got MIKE PETO to attend and we are working on getting ANNEABELLE ALLEN out to present as well. Also we will be learning Cherokee from WADE BLEVINS. I think that some change is to be expected, though, after twenty years of the same thing.

  6. For those “interpersonal skills” I try to put a human face on it. I tell them that “I couldn’t have look at a teacher in the eyes at your age. In fact, I couldn’t look at peoples eyes until a couple a years ago!” This is truth. I would have failed in a TPRS class during midle school. I tell them that each one of them has areas of growth. Some of you do really well suggesting answers or tracking the story and its events, some respond when I ask questions or when I point to the word on the board. I tell them that all of that is positive and they are “life hacks” that can take them really far.

    I tell also them that companies have trouble with recent college graduates because they cannot collaborate with each other. Here, you get collaboration with people of different opinions. One thing that I have been doing it that ” 1) once they suggest a detail” they go back to “1) Listen – One person speak only”

    If there are spacey (for long stretches) or blurty students, I talk to them personally. I ask them, How is it going? What happened in class? After I listen to them, I say “I noticed that you _______” They may concur or not. I then tell them “well it is what I saw. How does that make you feel?” They respond. I say “it makes me feel ______”

    It all depends on the student and I don’t ask all these questions but I put my feelings out there. I ask them how they feel too. I try and wrap it up with a positive note that they CAN grow. Nothing punitive.

    1. How courageous you are to talk to your kids as human beings with feelings. I smiled when I read that, Steven. That takes guts, especially when the norm is to crush any deviant behaviour and fire off volley after volley of detentions.

  7. This is such an interesting post to read. Thank you! I don’t like “rules” because that word has such a negative connotation. My husband is a principal at an at-risk high school and he scrapped all rules and replaced them with 4 core beliefs. I was fortunate to teach there for a semester this year and it was amazing. He’s so right, you can’t argue beliefs. So I plan on taking everything I’ve been learning from Ben, Tina and the PLC, and creating a set of classroom beliefs.

    1. Robert Harrell

      I would be interested in knowing what the four core beliefs for the high school are. Could you tell us, Dana?

      Also, I try to base my classroom culture on principles of behavior rather than rules of conduct. I plan to expand next year on what I have. Among the things my student see and hear are:
      – “Sei nett” (Be nice): probably my most-repeated phrase; some students need more reinforcement on this than others
      – “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you” (Confucius)
      – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Jesus of Nazareth)
      – “It is our choices … that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities” (Albus Dumbledore)
      – Honor yourself, others, your environment (The school’s expected learning results are “Prepare, Honor, Succeed”.)

      We spend time throughout the year discussing what all of those mean, both in English and in German. I also use Michael Josephson’s Six Pillars of Character (from “Character Counts”) and talk about the six stages of moral development, expressing my hope that my students will strive to reach “I have a moral/ethical code, and I live by it”. (One of the best examples in literature is Atticus Finc, btw.)

      My church has articulated five core values (in addition to our statement of faith/beliefs), so I am interested in the school’s four core beliefs and how they apply in a schoolwide setting.


    2. Dana said:

      … I plan on taking everything I’ve been learning from Ben, Tina and the PLC, and creating a set of classroom beliefs….

      I heard a bell go off in when I read that, one of those ideas that could become a big new theme in our work. I can see a set of core beliefs next to the Classroom Rules poster, or even replacing it some day. If your husband has had success with this idea, there is no reason we can’t as well.

      I like it that it is the “bad kids” who are pushing us forward to positive change.

      Anyone wishing to start this process is welcome to look at some of the self-reflection, metacognition, participation and rigor posters on the page linked below, to get things started:

  8. In a way all the class room rules refer to the kids. I’d like to put the first one up for the teacher, so
    that the kids see this all the time:
    1. Der Lehrer muss sich die größte Mühe geben, dass ihn alle verstehen können!!! (The teacher has to take great pains to make him/herself easy to understand!!!)
    2. Tell her/him if she isn’t clear.

    I believe this may show the kids that we are in this together.

    or maybe: Help me to become a better teacher for you!

    By the way, Dana, would you share the four core believes, please?

  9. Larry Hendricks

    Boy, this is confusing to me, especially since I have come back to the PLC after being away for two years.

    So, “circling” is out now? I thought that was basic to TPRS. If you no longer circle, then how do you teach?

    I’m asking all this, and I came back, because I’ve been asked to teach a night class for adults in conversational Spanish. I start in August. It’s the same class I taught a few years ago in Tennessee. Now I’ll be teaching it in Mississippi.

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