The Hole In Their Hearts 2

I am about to embark, for the rest of the year, on using much more reading and songs to generate CI. I think that the focus on stories may have kept us from innovating more than we have into these two vital areas – vital because they are more interesting to teenagers who may not want to actually be in the class.
Of course, stories would work wonderfully with paying students who are highly motivated. And they work wonderfully in most settings. But I have just spent over a year in an urban setting with huge classes, with at least five and up to ten kids in the room who pull energy from the larger group and thus lower the quality of the CI. To quote a recent email from a colleague:
…and you’re right – a few little asswipes in the class can poison the atmosphere.  Blatant violations can be dealt with, it’s the insidious pissy little attitudes that creep in and undermine what we are trying so hard to do….
I don’t know why this group of clueless kids (no blame – they are unconscious) in our classes hasn’t received more press over the years in the different TPRS discussion groups. These few kids, after all, have ruined CI for many classes, and many teachers have quit the method precisely because of these few unconscious kids. Teachers agonize daily about how to reach these kids, when it is fair to ask if they can be reached at all.
Maybe the fact that, over the past twenty years, TPRS has failed in making strong inroads into the existing curricula not just because of the resistant power of the grammar wolves guarding the hen houses, and not just because it is perceived as difficult by too many people, but really because of these kids who wouldn’t be reached by anything because they are in rebellion mode. Those kids may be the real culprit in the failing of TPRS to be more universally used by now in our nation’s classrooms.
That is why I am going to spend the rest of this academic year seeing if more reading and a lot more twexted songs can generate more interest in the CI discussion than stories and PQA, because they reach deeper into those pissy kids’ hearts. Especially songs, right?
Maybe by the end of this year I can say that, for me, CI now consists of four, not two, things:
I have been so taken by the power of PQA and stories these past ten years that I have lost the obvious – reading and music are more powerful than PQA and stories to catch the interest of the entire class, including in particular those five or ten students who disrupt the chemistry of our classes by sucking on the positive energy generated by the others.
Michele told me about Victoria’s recent successes with using music almost uniquely in her classes and we should hear about that here soon. It’s not like the focus of the blog will change, but it will shift, at least my own entries will shift a bit, more towards reading and music. It’s not like we don’t have around four thousand texts in the form of blog entries and comments on the subject of PQA and stories here over the past three years anyway.
*I know that reading has always been an important part of using contextualized comprehensible input as this thing has developed, but I just never did it enough, not nearly enough, so I kind of have to add it as a new thing to my list.



20 thoughts on “The Hole In Their Hearts 2”

  1. I think what’s hurting kids is also what’s hurting us. When someone says “I’m bored,” what I hear is “You’re an inadequate person.” We are all so full of our own fears that we find them reflected in the people around us. Once we learn to see clearly, the fears dissolve because they’re all based on illusion anyway.
    But as long as I’m trying to patch the hole in my own heart, I’ll see these “pissy attitudes” or “I’m bored” students as poised with a spear aiming for me. They see the same as soon as I turn my mean teacher glare on them. We’re all wounded and we read threats into little actions, for no real reason.
    Guess I’m feeling the hole right now, too. I want us all to be a nurturing community in my classroom. It can happen! There are times my little groups of people can feel like a small heaven. But somehow it’s much more of a pattern to make the world our hell and to be our own devils.

  2. Very well said Jennie. Students so need me to NOT make it about me. I have found that the better I know each and every student the better I am able to empathize and sympathize. When I respond to them with sincere caring and concern (and when I have previously shown them that I care about them as people) I have found that the dynamic is very different.
    My students are living with so much pain – much of it caused by family situations. I must remember that how they respond to me is usually a result of that pain.

  3. My students are intimately familiar with family pain…many of them have parents in prison, or who have been deported, or they just don’t have a real family. It’s an inner-city school and there are some really horrible stories that some of our counselors could tell you.
    I get that. I feel for those kids. But I also know that they are making a choice to be disruptive, or to derail MY class. I am there for them and I care about them – but I can not let them run the class. Feeling sorry for them isn’t going to help them – giving them tools to make better choices and to be more successful in life is going to help them. Unfortunately, rather than accept my help some of them would rather be disruptive and fight against me rather than work with me. I can’t run my class around them, so if they can’t (at the very least) shut up and let me teach, it is going to be a problem.
    I have one student who is driving me nuts (let’s call him Jimmy). He’s a nice kid and smart enough. But he just doesn’t know how to follow directions. I’ve told him time and again that he is not to use his cellphone in class. I’ve taken it away, turned it into security, done pretty much everything I’m allowed to do with it. Usually the second time security gets it, a parent has to come in and pick it up. Well, this kid is 18 so he qualifies as a parent. So taking it away has zero real effect on him. He doesn’t use it for the rest of the hour, but he has it the next day. If I do take it away, he talks the rest of the hour, distracting the kids around him. I’ve moved him, had him out in the hall for a talk, etc. He just doesn’t shut up. Nice enough kid, but he’s keeping me from doing my job. He’s also keeping the other kids from learning what they need to learn – we have a district CRT coming up and there are things they simply must know to do well on it, and it’s 20% of their semester grade per district policy. So if I have great kids who have been getting A’s and then they bomb the final, that hurts them.
    One girl who DOES care came up with a new seating chart – she said I should use it after the semester to break up some of the noisier kids. I looked at it and she does have some good ideas – but I don’t think she realizes that Jimmy, no matter where he is, is going to be talking and disruptive. So really it’s a choice of who do I want to throw the problem at – should I have Jimmy sit next to an A student who will pass anyway, despite the distraction (and maybe even tell him to STFU)? Or do I put him next to another kid who also doesn’t care so as to minimze the damage? Or do I do some tricky sleight of hand with the final semester grades so that he doesn’t move on to second semester? Or do I just sit him in the corner and let him use his phone all hour so that he doesn’t bother the rest of us? I told the girl thank you for her ideas, and that we would likely see some changes on the class roster after the break so we’ll see if it’s an issue. It really does make me want to make sure he doesn’t pass so that he’ll be dropped at semester – but I would hate to see a teacher do that to my own children, so I have a moral dilemma with that.
    That’s the one thing that makes me discouraged about TPRS, more than anything else. It works – but only if the kids can actually HEAR and FOCUS on the CI. If you have one kid who is disruptive it can derail the whole thing. The days when I have the kids do worksheets or textbook stuff is generally because I don’t have the energy to deal with that one kid (and why does it seem like it’s always the last class of the day that has that kid?). If they are working on worksheets, the good students can be doing something without Jimmy’s constant interruptions. Jimmy can choose to not do his work, but his decision doesn’t affect the rest of the class the way it does when trying to do TPRS.
    This is an issue that really bugs me. I know that CI is the way for students to learn the language, rather than bits and pieces of language that may never come together for them. All it takes is 1-2 Jimmy’s in a class to make CI nearly impossible. I don’t like that kids like Jimmy have that power or control. I hate to write kids off and tell them “you should not be allowed to take the next level” but I also don’t want the Jimmy’s of the world to dictate what the other kids can and cannot do. Technically, I am entitled as a teacher in Arizona to invoke a law that allows me to have a disruptive student removed from my class permanently. The issue is, they have to put him somewhere else. In English or math class, no problem. But I’m the only French teacher at my school, so that’s not going to work for me. He’ll be right back in my class as soon as admin realizes they have nowhere else to put him.

  4. Just to clarify, what I was describing in my post was not “feeling sorry for them” Sympathy and empathy borne out of true concern and awareness allow me to treat them like I would treat my own child. What if the Jimmies in our classes (and most of us have them) were our own children. Would our approach to them be different? That has been my goal this year….

  5. Heather, thanks for your very candid and thought provoking discussion of the problem (and Ben for getting it started). I agree that a disruptive student can make life hell when doing storytelling, and there is nothing more frustrating than having a student undermine your hard work, and the sincere desire to learn on the part of other students.
    I took Susy and others words to heart (we teach kids) and have made classroom management a focus in recent years, and have experienced a good amount of success–it has transformed my classroom (but not made it problem free). You don’t mention what sort of management scheme you are using (and excuse me if you have already used these options–I don’t want to offend by just assuming you haven’t). There are a few options for dealing with students like the one you describe–I use Fred Jones–I know another scheme popular with TPRSers is called something like Love and Logic. I like Fred Jones because he actually created the scheme based on research at schools for students who bombed out in mainstream schools, usually for discipline reasons (i.e. working with the worst of the worst case scenarios). You might try emailing Tawana Billingsly (sorry if I slaughtered the name). I’ve seen her contribute on MoreTPRS from time-to-time and went to a workshop of hers two years ago at NTPRS. She works in an inner-city setting and you might find things of use from her. I found several of the things she uses very useful in my classroom.
    I don’t work at an inner-city school, but I went to one and worked with inner-city kids in a group home setting in another “lifetime” (seems that long ago). In an inner-city school you are not only dealing with kids with abuse and big problems in their homes/backgrounds, but as well with culturally based attitudes about education (which can make it seem you are pushing the tide back with a spoon). That might be another dimension in your student’s acting out as well as personal problems. There are studies out there about dealing across cultural lines in the classroom which might help.
    In the end, I know that feeling of not wanting to give up on a kid, and at the same time wanting to give up on the kid, nuetralize him/her by putting them in the boondocks, letting them get a much deserved “F” by letting them do whatever just as long as they aren’t disrupting everyone elses education. We also aren’t therapists or family councilors or cultural diplomats–at some point a line has to be drawn. I don’t think anyone would blame you for opting out with a kid whose problem is beyond the scope of your work.

  6. Heather, don’t forget about Bryce’s alternate plan. The blessing/curse of TPRS is that we are giving kids an open mike, and some will definitely misuse it. When the basic rule enforcement options aren’t being followed in good faith, change the class setup radically for those students. Your class will thank you.
    I’ve got my own Jimmy in one of my classes, and I put him on a modified version of Bryce’s plan about 2 weeks ago; it’s made a huge difference. The trick for my Jimmy (I’ll call him Steve) is that he is simply too smart for his own good, so I’ve appealed to that. He knows he is being set aside primarily because he won’t stop picking on other kids (in German no less), but I’m also letting him know that he also needs a challenge: he starts with a worksheet and then moves to a reading selection each day. I start each class with 7 minutes of silent reading, during which time I go over Steve’s worksheet from the previous day with him, and give him some one on one time there. As Steve has improved, I’ve allowed him to participate in limited large class activities (songs, vocab test activities) but everybody is happy with this setup.
    So yeah Steve needs some life skills. Steve treats every confrontation as a knife fight–admit no guilt, play a pressing offense, take no prisoners, play the martyr. I can’t play his game on his homecourt; he’s too good at it. I couldn’t keep negotiating rules and demanding them from Steve, we weren’t getting anywhere there. It took three calls home before I got any lasting traction on that front. The only thing I could do was change the setup, and we finally found something that’s working. Jimmy has a hole in his heart the size of a Mack truck and he doesn’t even want to patch it. I won’t call it patched now, but our current band-aid is establishing some common ground for us to build off of. Good enough for me.

  7. I am most struck with Heather’s honesty. A lot of us work very hard to keep from getting outed on this topic. Many of us have more discipline problems than we want to admit. We even think it’s our fault, our lack of resolve or whatever. But I don’t think it’s our fault. That nobody in the building grabs Jimmy by the collar and unceremoniously tosses his ass out of our classrooms because we requested it – our word should be enough – is the problem. We are told to differentiate with kids who shouldn’t be in our classrooms. No, those Jimmy’s shouldn’t be there and we shouldn’t be talking about this here. We have other things to talk about. But there it is, a system intent on imploding on itself via bad management. I would counsel all of us, all of us, to do the best we can with these shits – definitely roll with Bryce’s plan for awhile to see if it works/ find it on the posters page of this site – but we should never internalize any sense of failure if we can’t make them come around. The failure is in the system, not in us. We are fighters. We are champions. Anyone who hasn’t done what we do – especially those failed teachers who are now administrators – should never comment on how we need to learn how to reach all the kids, those Jimmy’s included, with our instruction. It can’t be done, not really. Until the system recognizes how toxic the Jimmys are to the teacher and the other kids, we will continue to have burnt out teachers and mediocre language instruction, even with TPRS/CI, which is hard enough to do without those miscreants in our classrooms. I know that this position conflicts with other things I have written about discipline (e.g. chapters in PQA in a Wink! about Mildred and Kyle) but that more humane approach are really directed at how to handle these hurtin’ kids at the beginning of the year only. There is a certain point when that just love them hippy position doesn’t work anymore because we lost. Once we get to that point, I suggest that we hold to the different point of view expressed above. We should then do things like actively try to get the kid out at the semester, or at least find a counselor in the building with the courage to go to the mat for us, understanding what is really going on, which is that an entire class is being ruined over one kid, so fricking fix it.

  8. Not all behavior is done on purpose. There are children with mental illness and hyperactivity disorder in our classrooms, children who have not learned how to control their inappropriate behaviors, or who aren’t receiving the medication that allows them to focus. I have never been a proponent of drugging kids, but with our current educational system, a child who cannot keep from talking needs a lot more individual attention in order to focus than a teacher can provide in a classroom setting. A student who is able to behave appropriately in English but not able to follow classroom rules in French may also be somebody who needs a medication or medication timetable adjustment. I don’t know whether Heather has explored this option in the case with Jimmy, whether he has a classified disability. As other commenters have mentioned, our classrooms are filled with both emotional hurts that respond to our sensitive interventions, and student whose needs are way beyond what we can provide. I don’t know whether a change in focus (from stories to readings / songs) will be the answer Ben is looking for, I am interested in hearing his response over the coming year. I feel that with my French III class I have been avoiding stories and focusing on reading this year due to the side conversations, and that now, when I try to engage people with the text by asking questions, I am getting a lot of blank stares. I was very frustrated with this class on the last class before November break, I have been wondering how to proceed …

  9. We need to decide if the blank stares are because a) they don’t understand, or b) it’s boring. It’s probably a combination of the two. So do we go back to stories because the kids like them and participate more? No thank you is my answer to that question. I am going to make stories a rare treat, earned by their making the reading classes work – no dear in the headlights stuff and you will show up for my class. Reading is so powerful that blank stares may be there but the CI is still so strong that they are learning. I resign from the funny master of ceremonies thing. Jason can do it, Blaine as well, most of us can’t. In reading classes they learn fifty times more L2 than in other CI classes, even more than in stories. Blaine’s idea of Read and Discuss remains the standard for great CI classes, and to me at least I could care less about being an entertainer. I remain open to opportunities for cute PQA, but I don’t obsess over it – if PQA and funny spins happen in my reading classes, fine. If not, that’s fine too. I’m protected by the great strength and inherent power in the design of Read and Discuss. Here’s the kicker: the blank stares will soon go away anyway with the guaranteed daily Quick Quiz. That little fella at the end of class will get them to show up in class if the reading is boring to them. How dare these kids turn off because it isn’t all fun and games and funny stories? We may have actually spoiled them with stories. Can you imagine? That is why I sometimes say I am a CI teacher and not a TPRS teacher. I’m done with all the pressure to be funny and cute in stories. Yes, that may happen in my classes, but no, I don’t need TPRS to be an effective teacher using Krashen’s methods. I am a teacher not an entertainer and so, Naomi, go ahead and be frustrated with that one class. Just give them those little hammer Quick Quizzes and watch them pay attention in spite of themselves. Make those tests more difficult. Ding ’em a little on their grades. Make your class resemble what most of their other classes in the building look like. That is what they are used to. I’ve always been amazed at how we even survive in buildings, bringing in these big packages of light every day, unwrapping them in the form of wonderful stories and PQA, only to have a Jimmy or some other factor darken our work. It’s ok to suck at this. It’s ok to not be funny all the time. Reading is a powerful way to get good instruction into our students, and we don’t have to get all nutty about being entertaining. Until the system takes the Jimmys out of the classroom, we need to quit trying so hard to make CI work – the system is broken. More on my current lean toward reading CI as things develop through the winter, Naomi. But so far so good.

  10. Ben I’m not sure who you are referring to when you say some have more problems in their rooms than they are admitting to. I hope I haven’t given that impression. I have a number of kids in multiple classes that I am having to deal with and in varying degrees of severity. The most difficult case is one who is now on a plan similar to Bryce’s. The student has just enough Spanish in his background to make my class too easy. Combined with a lack of impulse control and he was looking to put me through my paces. The student now reads during the period, out in the hall, and participates in only a few activities with the whole group. I doubt if this will change before the end of the year. His grade is 80% reading. It took a number of measures to reach that point, but way less costly to me than taking away what I enjoy most in my teaching–the oral stories (and I depart from Krashen on this point–I think that his theory has underplayed the importance of listening in acquisition). And it is working. I prefer not to jump too quickly to that extreme (student out of group). The student worked himself into it. I started with small limits and I always try to keep the student in the group, and limits out of the what Jones calls something like the “system” as long as possible–until I’ve exhausted less costly (to me) options. (the “system” is the school wide discipline system–which is usually wholly negative–referrals, detentions, etc–and for the Jimmies, doesn’t tend to work–and instead, turns them against us and makes difficult any attempts to repair damage).
    I have another student who also cannot control impulses. The fun of a story is her cue to goof around and talk with neighbors–this is not from being bored. I have a timer and with the agreement of the student (talked to on the side before hand to be sure they agree), I announced to the whole class that if “janey” can keep from interrupting, focus on the task and participate constructively, she earns the class 3o seconds of PAT on Friday for the whole class. I set a timer for 8 minutes (a time we agreed was reasonable) and every time it rings, everyone thanks “janey” (it is usually pretty heartily done–I encourage it when students keep it genuine–they like PAT–and the student with the behavior problem usually likes the attention–why were they doing it anyway–and as a bonus, they get to see what it feels like to get attention for acting constructively.) and we get on with the lesson–timer is reset. This cost me hardly anything. My talk took 3 minutes of my time max–very little emotional energy–as soon as the student gets that I am working with him/her, power struggles usually disipate. I gladly give the few minutes that Janey can wrack up in a class by behaving because she was wasting way more time in my class than with her interruptions (some mistakenly misconstrue PAT as bribery–it is a time management scheme–likened to an allowance plan in which the child has to budget the allowance for things he/she wants to do–Janey is managing classtime to earn what she loves to do–play a 20 minute game at the end of the week–and the class is helping–and the teacher is removed from being viewed as the punishing authority to rebel against. I tried several other, very low cost management steps with Janey before I got to this stage. When I saw those wouldn’t work, I went to this step–I didn’t wait until it rubbed me the wrong way–which is when discipline is beginning to be costly for me. There were no costly phones calls home (in my opinion phone calls home are a crap shoot. They can work, or they can blow up in your face–turning a kid against you–same as referrals.) Will this plan continue to work? I don’t know. This is the earliest in the year I have ever had to do this. But last year I did this with a student who hated reading and would disrupt class while reading. I started at about the half-year point and he had only a few slip-ups during the rest of the year. If the plan doesn’t work with Janey–I can always up the anti and get her parents in, get her out of the room, use detentions–other measures which are more costly to me–but for now I am enjoying a little piece of mind–and for much longer than if I had gone to the school system right away. None of this is my brainchild–it is all from Jones. And it is working for me well enough to continue with it, and share it here.
    Ben I don’t teach in an inner-city setting. Jones claims it works. I have no idea. It sounds like in your setting the oral story isn’t appropriate. But most of us don’t work in that extreme an environment. All I know is that the oral story works well enough in my setting, and Jones (or other systems) are integral in that process.

  11. Doug I’m not referring to anyone, really. Myself most likely. I’m just amazed at what we ALL do as teachers, given the settings we work in. A society where adults allow kids to be rude. A society where in order to make a living doing something they love, adults are forced into situations in which most professional, bankers, lawyers, doctors, etc. would not last a day because of the wuss factor. You have to be physically and emotionally very tough to be a teacher.
    And Doug the oral story is appropriate – like you say “works well enough” – in my classroom. I love a good story. But they get spoiled. They have side conversations. I redirect them too much, maybe as much as seven or eight times a class – unless someone observes, of course, then the kids are fine. But I can’t be observed every class. My focus this year with reading is not stories or time management but energy management. Peace of mind management. Making stories part and not most of what I do with CI. More FVR, more SSR, more quick quizzes, less direct CI of an auditory nature. An easier class to teach, in short. We’ll see where it goes.

  12. this blog sets me on fire! i’ve been reading for over an hour. I MUST get on with the day!
    one of the thoughts that comes to mind though, and i’m ever conscious of it is the reason kids like learning with CI……… they “get” it. They can be successful. The thing about reading, i’m finding, is that a lot of boys, often the “rascals” Susan calls them “sparklers” don’t/can’t “get” reading. They: don’t like it, can’t see the point of it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it WHATEVER the reason, I’ve sensed it, so I have to be careful how I use it. I teach an immersion student who has come right around but he’s reading at a grade 4 level in English, why would I think he can read in French….just a thought
    anyway, I want to say a million things, but I’ll let another voice, from long ago, say it better for me.
    Only The Brave Should Teach
    Only the brave should teach, the men and
    women whose intergrity cannot be shaken, whose
    minds are enlightened enough to understand the high
    calling of the teacher, whose hearts are unshakeably loyal to
    the young, whatever the interest of those in power.
    There is no hope for our world unless we can
    educate a different kind of man and woman.
    I put the teacher higher than any other person today in
    world society, in responsibility and in opportunity.
    Only those who love the young should teach.
    Teaching is not a way to make livelihood.
    The livelihood is incidental. Teaching is a vocation.
    It is as sacred as priesthood; as innate as a desire;
    as inescapable as the genius which compels a great artist.
    If a teacher has not the concern of humanity, the love for living
    creatures, the vision of the priest and of the artist,
    the teacher must not teach.
    Teachers who hate to teach can only have pupils
    who hate to learn.
    A great and true teacher thinks of the child,
    Dreams of the child, sees visions, not of
    him/herself, but in the flowering of the child
    into adulthood. The teacher thinks of the
    child first and always.
    It takes courage to be a teacher, and it takes
    unalterable love for the child.
    Pearl S. Buck
    happy saturday everyone!

  13. Lynn we indeed are brave. Brave in the way Pearl Buck describes it (thank you for finding and posting that!), but brave as well in the sense that we are trying to create an entirely new vision of what a teacher is, because we are trying to create a new vision of what teaching, in fact, is.
    Think of all of those old French movies we have seen about how it used to be sixty years ago in schools. There was this archetypal gruff teacher pulling on the ear of boys who just wanted to have fun and laugh and play. It seemed impossible to convey knowledge happily then, but look – we are doing it now.
    Carl Jung says that we all share a collective unconscious, a kind of collective memory of humanity on a level below our personal unconscious. We need to keep in consideration that we all are possibly in some way fighting images of those old images of teachers as mean people. That is quite a task, to fight an idea that has been around literally for centuries!
    This knew vision of what is possible might also possibly explain why TPRS/CI intimidates a lot of people who take one look at it and choose not to “go there”. Our work makes the teacher retool, rebuild, and destroy old concretized ideas of what a teacher does. What we bring actually makes teachers open up their hearts to children – I have to say it that way.
    Doing so is hard work. TPRS and PQA and doing CI and insisting on good quality reading classes and making songs work for real CI, not just for visual YouTube kicks, are hard work. Doing real CI is hard work! Getting reading going is hard work! No wonder the technology thing is getting so big right now – it’s a way to innovate without having to do the real work of learning how to do CI (unless, of course, the technology is used in the service of CI, which ain’t happening too much from what I am seeing – it’s a lot of smoke and little fire.)
    One thing is for sure. Worksheets and books are out. Krashen is in. Technology will certainly be Krashen if it is going to work. The change is here. We all feel it. It accounts for a lot of mistrustful looks in buildings these days. If we were all happy with the book, I’m sure that we would all be happy and departments wouldn’t mistrust each other and meetings would go splendidly just like in Pleasantville.
    But what we are bringing isn’t very pleasant to a lot of people! What we bring is very threatening to tens of thousands of foreign language teachers. But if we don’t change, then everything will just continue to be like it was thirty years ago, when kids learned nothing in foreign language classrooms.
    Uh oh, I’m starting to rant. Better quote Kierkegaard, who could well be describing the coming change in these words:
    If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the
    sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible.

  14. so thankful for this blog!
    Hi Doug,
    your management sounds very “together” here… I’d love to hear more of the steps in between the disruption and the school discipline system that you alluded to if you have time…
    I’m in a school where I’m the only Spanish teacher. What if you did Bryce’s alternate plan as someone mentioned above, and worked with another teacher or the office to give him a place outside your room to work? If he has quiet work to do in another classroom and honors that, it would solve the disruption problem for the class. In my school, kids can also go to ISS to work, or sometimes outside the APs door…

  15. Hi Everyone!
    Classroom management has been on my mind a lot lately. I don’t have major “problem” kids, but there is so much blurting out, use of English, being distracted that I am trying to figure out how to deal with this. I started the year just pointing back to the rules on the wall, and then had a kid in class count how many times class was interrupted by me doing this (sometimes 15 times in 40 min!). This didn’t seem to be helping, so I started giving them a participation grade at the end of the class (a check plus, check or check minus) If a student gets 3 check minutes then the plan was they would have a meeting with me and their classroom teacher. After 6 check minuses they would meet with the principal. The plan morphed into missing recess after three check minuses. It was a hassle giving a grade at the end of each class and the missing recess thing doesn’t set well with me. Then I started (in addition to the individual grade thing) a plan where if they have 4 days with 3 or fewer interruptions in the class then we’d have a day of games (aka CI in disguise). This is working with one class and almost seemed to backfire with the other class. (In general I feel that these systems are wreaking more havoc in terms of rapport with the kids- but not sure what to do!)
    I was hoping that over break I’d have some kind of insight about this and I’d start in again with a new plan…. But I’m still at a loss. One thought I’ve had is something along the lines of saying that if a kid disrupts the class in some way 3 times (in one class) that I would call their parents, if this happens (certain number of times) again then we’d set up a meeting. (I only have 10 kids (!) in a class so not too hard to follow through with this)… I don’t know! Ben says get in their faces and tell them they have to stop…. But then what? I feel like I started the year not tough enough, so how do I regain control of the class?
    (I think I’ll start Ben’s reading plan, but waiting for the books to arrive…. So maybe this will help….?)
    Oh- it was my student who told me that class was boring (from a previous blog)! But Ben misunderstood- it wasn’t out loud in class- it was when I was talking to him about getting his 6th check minus in class and he said “well, I think your class is boring”…. (this after a class in which a student rejected the proposal of Taylor Lautner and where he and his friend got up and sang their version of “Guapo” to squeals of laughter from the class!—boring? so hard to not get defensive about this comment!!!)
    I’d love to hear anyone’s ideas of ways to manage the classroom, keep the English and other blurting down, etc….! Should I scrap my previous strategies, and if so is there something else I should do??? I didn’t have school today so tomorrow is my first day back from break- perfect timing to begin something new ?

    1. I have a student secretary in each class who gives participation points to students. That is I give the secretary (who changes each class) a class list and their job is to tally the number of times students raise their hand and speak. When an answer or suggestion is particularly good or the question difficult, I give bonus points. If a student gets out of hand, they get a “yellow card” I rarely have to give a “red card”. Of course, this is France, so everyone knows that yellow card is a referee’s warning and red card puts you out of the game. The secretary writes yellow card or red card besides the student’s name. This system is much simpler for me because I don’t have to stop to write it down or give a lecture, I just say “yellow card” and go on with the lesson. I also like the idea that it puts their disruption in a sports metaphor. “You’re not playing by the rules, you’re disrupting the game.” I’m not the policeman, I’m the referee. At the end of the trimester, I check to see who has received cards, it’s all on the class sheets I handed out at the beginning of each class. I give a participation grade, maximum 15. Then I give a grade for Attention in class. Maximum 5. They all start out with 5 and I take off points for the yellow cards. When they ask me what happens with a red card, I say we have a discussion after class. I can threaten to give them detention, but I suggest that they do some extra work at home, about an hour’s worth, and they accept. It works for me. And by the way, my class secretaries are scrupulously honest about putting down the yellow cards, even when they are the ones who got a yellow card. Some people worry about the secretary having to pay attention and keep track of participation, but some students have told me that it helps them to focus. When I ask for volunteers, I get several hands up.

      1. Very cool. We don’t have a national sport that lends itself to this. There are no yellow cards in American football, just red flags if you get caught using your helmet like a weapon. The aim of football as we play it is to win by hurting people.
        But, we do have one person in Hungary and one in Russia on this list so maybe I can put it under the Jobs category Judy and of course credit you.
        By the way, your comment from a few days ago on what vs. why was very important to me. It reduced my feeling of being crazy by a bit, so thanks.

  16. A bunch of us around here have begun to flail as the holiday stress and excitement picks up. I have been too loose lately. It took four classes today to figure that out…the one with two quizzes went well, the one with the structured reading exercise went okay. But the one where I didn’t really have a plan was filled with blurting and behaviors and English. Not good. The fourth one, when I’d had a prep period to realize the error of my ways, went well. Today’s structures were on the board. Two kids had quiz-writing responsibilities. We started with a song, did the gestures for it, and BAM! Quiz on the gestures with their eyes shut. Next, we did a little PQA. Some kids started blurting. Wreeik…I came to an audible stop, smiled evilly at them for a moment, pointed to my shoulders and straightened up so that they did too. About ten minutes in, I asked the quiz writers what questions they had so far and added one to each of their lists. Kids noticed. We went into a little bit of a story about the long Thanksgiving holiday, and then I stopped again, did another quiz, warned them I was going to ask some “Stump the Chump” that the high-end kids could answer out loud, exhibited amazement and awe that they got those (while making just a couple of corrections to keep them from too much ego) and the period was over. Ideally those stump-the-chump would be the “get-an-A” questions, but I don’t have that in place right now. I hope that I can do this all day tomorrow so that I will set some good expectations in place for these last difficult three weeks.

  17. Be aggressive with the loud ones. Walk over to them with a smile. Win the ball. My first class in the a.m. today after the long break was too loud starting out, so in English I guaranteed, invited, warned, here it comes, you will be getting a content quiz at the end of the class and, as a special treat, I am going to put a participation grade from this class in the book as well. No, don’t thank me. Your parents thank me. My gradebook has been very lonely lately, very lame, actually, and it needs more numbers! So do we need to review the rules here or are we good? O.K. then….
    (If you haven’t spent a lot of time in an actual classroom, the above may not make sense to you. You may think that kids naturally want to be put in situations where they can just have fun learning and Blaine gave us that so why is there a need to be a hard ass in class? But using quizzes and grades to keep classes focused is just part of what we do – I’m talking to teachers now, the real kind, who know that kids push for every little side conversation they can get, and who know that those kids must be lovingly shut down unless they want to lose control of their classes by February. Not my cup of tea, that. Teachers teach, and don’t have to be nice all the time, and must establish that the classroom is theirs, and doesn’t belong to some 15 year old kid. It seems crazy to say that, so obvious, but some teachers, unbelievably, in their misconception of TPRS, have let their desire that the story be funny, their need to be liked/approved of, get in the way of that basic fact. I think we’ve had this conversation before, but it certainly bears repeating. This is why my fellow teachers are my heroes – this is the reason. We confront stupidity.

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