Small Classes

I have a colleague who has two middle school classes, one of 8 and one of 4 kids. I told him to just be careful with those small classes. They can get boring because of the lack of diverse energy in the room. Here is what I wrote in an email to him:
You will have to go quickly into imaginary scenes (what I call “extending” PQA) and really get a fanciful world of bedrock information on each kid. The questionnaires (see posters page on the resources link of this site). In a sense, each kid will have to fill the function of 7 or 8 kids to make it possible for you to get the energy needed to keep the interest high. I would suggest, as well, going to stories much sooner for the same reason of “How long can you PQA with just four kids?”
The stories are going to have to be of excellent quality, as well. Bring parents into class often, anyone who can provide comparision with the kids, because once you find out information on someone via circling, when it drags, bringing in someone new, imagined or real, or bringing in a new event, is crucial to keeping the circling alive.
This is what Blaine told me personally and it really works: you spiral down into greater and greater detail in the circling and then when it reaches a saturation point on the interest you bring in a new character or a new event.
Compare the kids to celebrities, who themselves could become a part of the imaginary ongoing fabric of the classroom. You will need a lot of leitmotifs and imaginary “friends” in the room, more than in most classrooms.
Read a ton, and do a ton of spinning of comprehensible input in the form of discussion whenever you can. What I mean by spinning is when you go back and forth every ten or fifteen minutes between reading and talking about what you are reading by making up new things, always new things, that are based on the vocabulary that you are reading. I would do this at least 70% of the time – the dynamics of your classroom will almost require it.
Always focus only on their listening and their reading in year one. Then you will be almost shocked at how much they can write and speak after that if you focus only on listening and reading here in year one.
Recruit other students. You’ll find that this fluffing up of the energy in the room is crucial in small classes. Once the kids know each other, they may develop (are very likely to) personal likes and dislikes between each other. Even if you are aware of them (usually we are not), then the dynamic betweeen certain kids could affect your work overall. That is why you want to try to get more kids in there.
Some kids are just too shy and quiet at this age and that is another reason to try to recruit more kids, especially into that class of four. You don’t want all the work will fall on you and just a few kids. I would base all of my work with that class of four on reading.
On the positive side, you won’t have to worry about comprehension checks and teaching to the eyes!



7 thoughts on “Small Classes”

  1. I stumbled upon this post today and I was wondering if there are any others out there that are still running into this problem. I have very small classes in my upper levels, Spanish 3 and Spanish 4. They think they know a great deal because their former teacher was traditional and forced output all of the time. I try to feed off of their knowledge and circle the snot out of everything we can to show them the correct way to say things. They are playing, but we run out of creative ideas quickly. I hate to give my ideas to take the ownership away, but I´m running out of options. We do lots of R/D and movie talk with clips I can find. Sorry for the random ramble, but I´m getting desperate.
    I´m still fairly new at full CI (thank you for saving my sanity), so any advice is helpful advice.
    Thanks to all out there.

  2. It’s not you; it’s them. They have a higher opinion of their capacities than they should, which is never a good thing. I have been there done that so intensely that I have wanted to cry, and the class won that battle that year, the year I had inherited a French 4 class that knew nothing from three previous 1950’s style teachers.
    Let’s be clear, forced output leads to bad output later, if any. I would shut them up, stop inviting yourself into a position of vulnerability with them. Just deliver the CI and if it fails in the auditory form then go to the good old Ace of Reading card and you always have dictee and Textivate and other bail out move. Place more responsibility on them (as per Classroom Rule #5).
    So go to the Upper Levels category on the right side of this page and read some of those articles. Most point to reading with upper level kids. Then read some of the other comments below that I am sure will appear in response to your heartfelt question, then come back to us with what you are figuring out and share that with us, and in awhile things will be different.
    Just one thing: Those Classroom Rules and jGR are going to be big players in the turnaround of this class so don’t shy away from that point. You can do this. We will help you.

    1. I have really small classes but at lower levels. I teach at a continuation school. In general we’ve made ok progress this trimester but I feel like I try and force output before they’re ready.

  3. Here’s another sneaky way around kids who think they know so much. Assign a fast write with current vocabulary. Pick something that the kids are all doing wrong in their writing.
    Then have a little talk before class officially starts with them. Say something like, “I was reviewing your writing, and found this structure that the whole class needs to work on. This is the correct way to use it, and you’re on the way to acquisition, but we need to make sure that you hear and read it about 300 more times. Jessy Z here is going to count every time I say the structure or that we come across it in reading.” Then you make sure it’s in a story or discussions about the kids and remember to ask how many times you’ve said it at least once a class period. It will help you focus, and it will give them reason to be studying.
    The beauty of doing this is that then you can concentrate on something else that you wanted to have as a structure, but the kids won’t really notice all the repetitions of that one because they’ll be focusing on the first one.
    This idea comes from Betsy Paskvan, who played this trick on a bunch of teachers in Japanese. She told us that she was trying to get us to recognize a little marker, when really it was sentence order she was working on. She was successful, and we got a new way to teach things.
    Of course, once you’ve done the 300 times with that structure, you have to assign another fast write and figure out a way to tell them what to write about so that they’ll have to use it. You can then see whether they’ve got it or not. If not, you can add another 100 times. Or you can realize that it’s not a structure they’re going to be acquiring so soon.

  4. I have small classes: 5 in Chinese 4, 6 in Chinese 3, 11 in Chinese 2, and 13 in Chinese 1. I think small classes are fun if they’ll play! My classes were more-or-less traditionally taught by their previous teacher until this year.
    I talked with each class about language acquisition at the beginning of the year based around classroom expectations, Interpersonal Communication rubric, and quotes that Eric Herman culled from research. (The Forum has a post about these called “SLA Quotes” I think.) Every Friday I spend about 3 minutes with another SLA quote and brief discussion. I let them know it’s different from other subjects. I think this helped. No judgment or criticism of the previous teacher mentioned.
    My 3’s and 4’s were great at the transition… they seemed to feel quickly how weak their real communication was. I started the year with MovieTalk with the Chinese 4 class, intended to be a totally different feel than what they’d had before. Their listening comprehension has really improved. They had pieces of language, and it’s becoming more fluent (and also more accurate on the fly). We’ve talked about this process occasionally when a student says or asks something about it.
    Mostly, I plan about 15-20 minutes on each activity and then do a brain break and switch to something else. I think of things in terms of what step of TPRS I’m aiming to do: establish meaning, or focus on auditory input, or focus on reading input. So about 15-20 min on establishing meaning and PQA, then 15-20 min. on some other kind of auditory-based input on new structures (look and discuss, listen and draw, I keep collecting ideas…).

  5. Diane also told me last week about how those kids who act so smart – because they process the story faster – can be stopped in their tracks with one question: “OK, so tell me the story.” When they can’t, you tell them that obviously they need to listen more because listening comes before speech.
    If that and separating them (smart kids seem to come in pairs) doesn’t work, I always get them writing. I demand perfect grammar. I put them on their own program of traditional instruction with the focus on writing. Usually they give up on that isolation from the group and want to get back in to the group. I don’t let them, or only after I’ve made my point for a month or so.
    Tangential but not directly related to that point is that when I used to have native speakers I NEVER allowed them into auditory work with the rest of the class because they always screwed it up for the rest of us. Those kids write all year. Why? Because even though they can understand their own language, usually they can’t write it for crap.
    So that and reading authentic texts is their curriculum in the back of the room all year. Out of sight, out of mind, and I thus deal with them in spite of the counselors’ failure to schedule them properly in the first place.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I do have great groups of students willing to play. I am working with them to keep it simple and build with details. They can “retell” the stories, but it is littered with the garbage of forced output mistakes. So we go back and practice until it´s perfect… I think they are bored out of their gourds sometimes, but it´s catching everyone up to the same place. And they still laugh and smile. (The eye rolls from the face paced students are the worst)
    I have the jGR posted and the classroom rules enlarged and hanging above the board. We have been using them so far. I´m re-reading TPRS in a Year and re-watching the videos to continually build my confidence.
    I have 2 native speakers in each class and they have been my story writers so far. We have done movie talk (the ¿Qué hora es? You-tube videos from MadTV are spectacular) and they provided most of the re-acting because they were smooth with the dialog. We may switch and have them read “Cajas de carton” because they need some good reading and writing.
    Thanks again to everyone for their help. This blog has been my saving grace from the asylum! Keep it up!

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