Teacher of the Month – April 2014 – Greg Stout

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37 thoughts on “Teacher of the Month – April 2014 – Greg Stout”

  1. Greg, I’ve loved our back-and-forth on this blog! I feel like we could finish each other’s sentences 🙂

    Great quote in this article! Down with verb conjugations! Merely side effects, meaningless, and unworthy of a kid’s time. Well said.


      1. Greg said:

        …thanks, Eric -likewise!….

        Eric-wise. Maybe we should call him Eric-wise. He teaches middle school. Wisdom from Middle Earth about storytelling from Eric-wise. He also referred to jen in a middle earthy way in a comment yesterday as “Bequeather of jGR”. I like it. Maybe we all need middle earth names. Harrell – Gandalf.

        1. Now you’re really talking my language, Ben. Big Tolkien fan here. My husband tolerantly supports it and my Lord of the Rings film showing days. (I’m not so far gone that I want to dress like an elf though…) I’m reading The Hobbit in Chinese right now! That’s been fun.

          I agree, Robert Harrell is Gandalf.

  2. Sabrina Sebban_Janczak

    I so love this blog and I only wish I had more time this year to contribute .
    But every time I do come, I get reminded of how many wonderful people are here.
    Greg you are one of them.

    Et les fĂ©licitations sont Ă  l’ordre du jour, alors je te tire mon chapeau et je te fais une belle rĂ©vĂ©rence. Et j’espère pouvoir te rencontrer en personne Ă  iFLT.

    Congratulation Greg, you are just amazing….

    1. Sabrina, je tire souvent en cours de l’inspiration de ta presence joyeuse et calm dans tes vidéos. Je te fais une belle révérence en échange!

      1. This is a super great point, Greg. In painting, I believe in 18th c. France but not sure, the phrase in painting was “Imitez les grands/Imitate the great” before trying to develop your own style.

        So we watch Sabrina’s presence in her video and we try to teach like that, like Bernard teaches as well, with a smile, with patience and a kind of inherent respect, deep respect, for the students, and plenty of SLOW. We can watch Sabrina teach and try to imitate that style and that is what Greg said above has helped him in his own teaching:


        Videos can be very valuable, it’s just that it is so hard to get good examples, it seems the best classes always escape the eye of the camera. When Sabrina sent those to me she didn’t even intend for me to publish them, I had to get her permission – she didn’t think it was any great shakes. Look, video is never going to be great shakes, but it’s about all we have and we have to put our egos aside and keep sending them in whenever we can. It’s just that way.

  3. Oh yay! I also have enjoyed Greg’s insight and raw honesty. This post is EPIC…about the conjugations. I will probably steal it 🙂 Congratulations Greg!

    1. Thanks, jen, bequeather of jGR. In the classroom where I’m doing my maternity leave replacement, I enjoy erasing the board every day from the teacher before me….rows and rows of conjugation charts reduced to nothing in a matter of seconds! Bam!

    1. Thanks, Jim! I didn’t -were you able to find any answers? I’d really like to know. Did assigning numerical and/or letter grades start with a certain person/school? I’m really interested in where and when the trend began of giving assessments to find out what a student knows, converting that knowledge/lack of knowledge into a number/letter, then averaging numbers as an indication of “how well” the student did in the class (or in terms of a GPA, “how well” they did in school). I couldn’t imagine a public school not doing this today (especially since universities use these numbers for admissions). But this practice must have had a beginning, no?

      1. I think it may have begun in those days when people’s minds were more geared to and focused on quantifying things. It could have been in the 17th century – that was a big century for math. Who cares? The point is that we are moving out of those times, punching and slugging the crap out of the idea that people can be labeled numerically, as per:

        …les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais: “Quel est le son de sa voix? Quels sont les jeux qu’il prĂ©fère? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons?” Elles vous demandent: “Quel âge a-t-il? Combien a-t-il de frères? Combien pèse-t-il? Combien gagne son père?” Alors seulement elles croient le connaĂ®tre….

        Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Ch. 4

        …adults like figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about things that matter. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they ask: “How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him….

        1. What a fitting quote from Le Petit Prince in terms of grading. Speaking of talking about things that matter, I have enjoyed several moment the past few days when some level 3, 4, and AP students have made grammatical errors and I haven’t made a single comment. In fact, in many cases I haven’t even restated what the student said with correct grammar. If I do, I sneak the correct grammar in after two or three other sentences so that the kid isn’t aware of the “correction” but still gets the correct input. But most of the time I don’t even try to restate it, because doing so gets me focused on form when my goal is to stay completely focused on meaning. Of course we never steer students’ focus toward grammar, but I’ve found that even by SECRETLY focusing on modeling correct grammar, my focus is pulled away from truly tuning in to what my students are saying, thinking, and feeling. So, ignoring my students’ errors to the point of not even trying to restate language with correct grammar allows me to tune in a little more to what’s happening in the room at any given moment without trying to multi-task on that AND keeping track of the grammatical correctness of my students’ answers.

          Basically, I find that I’m more “free” when I put myself in the role of a native speaker listening to a non-native speaker and trying to understand what the non-native speaker is attempting to communicate. The native speaker is of course aware of the non-native’s grammatical errors, but the native speaker only responds to the CONTENT of the non-native’s language.

          Hopefully that makes sense.

          1. Makes perfect sense. Agreed.

            What I’ve read of recasts (and I need to read more), they are the most common form of teacher correction, but their effectiveness is disputed. In Krashen terms, it would only be 1 more rep that may or may not be at i+1. The students, focused on meaning, may not even register that you are correcting them, which matters to people who think that SLA is at least partly a conscious process.

            I only care about understanding my students. That is the only role grammar should have, especially at beginning/intermediate levels: grammar is only important as it affects comprehension. Not to mention that this approach does so much more for confidence and in lowering anxiety.

          2. “I only care about understanding my students.”


            I’ve been having some great moments the past few days with a few upper-level students who, when trying to tell me something in L2, I legitimately have had some trouble understanding. When I say “Comment?” they immediately revert to English, but I in turn immediately cut them off. I’ve adopted a special sound to cut off English use in class, just because it was the first sound that came out of my mouth my first few days with my kids at the first infractions of the “French only” rule. Before laser-pointing to the rule poster upon the offenses, a duck-like quack came out of my mouth (“Waaaaah”). The kids found it funny, and now they are doing it themselves to rule-offenders (Incidentally, I think I’ll keep doing this in the future, because it works for me in keeping the mood good-willed, but unmistakenly, immediately, every time, letting the offenders know that English will not only not be a part of our class between the bells, but that English sentences will be cut off with a quack and will need to be restarted in French, or abandoned).

            But back to your point, Eric -understanding our students is the only thing we should care about. The correct grammar will take care of itself with aural input and reading.

            I sat in on a grammar-centric class the other day and I was sad and angry to witness two girls trying to present animal projects (I am a tiger, I live in the Sahara, My fur is short, etc.) only to be cut off by the teacher for grammar issues. The teacher wouldn’t even let one full sentence get out of each girl’s mouth before stopping them. I completely understood what the girls were saying, and I think the girls knew what they were saying, but the teacher clearly did not care what they had to say about their animals (So, why were they doing the project?). It literally turned into a grammar and conjugation lesson, and the teacher also corrected their pronunciation non-stop.

            I feel for the teacher, because she is at her wit’s end and has chaotic classes, and I have spent all the time I need to ever spend in the same pair of shoes. So, I’m going to talk to her about CI. She has already come to me admitting that her classes are chaotic and she doesn’t know what to do except change schools, so she is at least aware of the situation. That in itself is refreshing.

            To say it once again, all that matters is us and our students understanding each other!

      2. Robert Harrell

        Here’s the URLs for a couple of articles on the history of grading –

        An interesting comment from this article: … Prussian schools organized children and the curriculum in terms of a series of stepped grades that allowed students to move along at their own pace while increasing the overall efficiency of the system. The original idea of grade levels was to allow students to move at their own pace, not keep them in lockstep with one another.


        According to this article, the current percentage grade system is a late development and the result of increased reliance on technology (computers). In addition, The 100-point scale that teachers employed in the early 20th century was based on an average grade of 50, and grades above 75 or below 25 were rare. … In contrast, most modern applications of percentage grades set the average grade at 75 (which translates to a letter grade of C) and establish 60 or 65 as the minimum threshold for passing. This practice dramatically increases the likelihood of a negatively skewed grade distribution that is “heavily gamed against the student” …

        Some definite food for thought here.

      3. I couldn’t imagine a public school not doing this today (especially since universities use these numbers for admissions).”

        It is hard to imagine. But what if…? I wonder that often, and it is finally starting to leave my head a bit and come out of my mouth more often, which I am happy about.

        Kohn address the university admissions caveat directly in his book Punished by Rewards. He interviewed several admissions counselors and found that this is not an issue for the able homeschooled/ungraded kids that apply. I know several kids in my community who were homeschooled without grades (did they do a standard test though??) yet were accepted to good colleges.

    1. Thanks, Catharina.

      I got the job in Chatham -I’m very happy I’ll be literally right down the road from you. Hope you have an extra seat in your classroom!

          1. I somehow missed this comment… No. Greg. You got that backwards. Next year I am watching…you. I do walk the walk, but on a totally different path. Teaching little kids is nothing like upper school.

            After this week, I am not even sure what I do is anything like TPRS?
            TCI yes. Classic TPRS no.

            When I try to be Madame TPRS pointing to the Smart Board with my cool laser pen, circling the target structure into every darn sentence, the kids riot.

            They much prefer my silly stick figures, jumping between shark infested waters, pointing to invisible Squidward yelling at invisible Spongebob, and traveling to school by butterfly. “Really Madame? Is that possible?”

            I must stop trying different things and stick to the basics. Not Ben’s basics, but what works in lower school. With little kids you get instant feedback: “Today French was really boring…!” Good thing they are forgiving.

            I’ve had a good year overall, besides these 2 last weeks. I am going to try to finish on a good note, and like my husband says “without leaving too many marks around their necks”.

          2. Well, come on over to Chatham in the fall and watch me teach Catharina…but just because you know the mindset behind this stuff and the work involved, which means I’ll get truly useful feedback from you!

      1. Greg,

        Will you still be in France in July when Judy, Sabrina and Lynnette and I do the International World Language Conference in Southwestern France July 8-12?

        1. Hi Teri,

          No, unfortunately. I was planning on it, but I came back to the States early to finish the year for a maternity leave. But I eagerly await all the juicy details, notes, videos, etc.

          Thanks for asking and best wishes for a successful conference!

  4. What can I say to this? I have so many things to thank all of you for. It kills me not to do it right now, but I’m forcing myself to get rest now before tomorrow, for the maternity leave I’m doing. I never really recovered from my jet lag from France a week ago because I had to hit the ground running the morning I got back or else I wouldn’t have a job now or in the fall. I was fading bigtime during the last period today, so I need some shut-eye!

    I will simply say I am tremendously encouraged by this honor and everyone’s words. Thank you Ben and everyone above for your kind comments.

    What a lucky person I am to have you all as colleagues!

  5. “Conjugating verbs in different tenses as an objective isn’t worthy of one second of a kid’s time in a school building, which is why most kids wouldn’t give it one”

    Wow, everything wrong with trad teaching in one sentence. Nice work, and congrats.


    1. I have a 4%er type in my Spanish 3 class, who thinks that she may be getting deprived of valuable instruction because I do not teach explicit grammar in this way Greg speaks of above. (A young sub whom the kids know, an Italian major in college, a 4 %er it seems to me, was startled to learn that my students were not able to conjugate verbs correctly at will, even though they can throw out some pretty impressive language extemporaneously. She openly doubted the fact that I don’t teach them these skills explicitly.)

      I started out class the other day, and just said… “Hey guys, tell me if you could understand what my English-learning friend said to me the other day, and if he is failing at communicating in English or not.”

      Then I spoke this sentence with a Spanish accent. “My friend buy a car yesterday.” I explained how not only did this guy get the tense wrong, but he got the subject/verb agreement wrong as well (if he were talking in present tense). This seemed to help my argument.

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