Throw The Dog A Bone 2

We work so hard. We slug. Especially in those years learning how to do the CI. We should be gentle on ourselves. I remember for the past ten years I would aggressively try to fill each class with only CI.
But, lately, I have become aware of how hard that is to do in a school. I’ve never done CI anywhere else, but I would think that doing CI in a place where people were paying for the learning would be markedly different. I know so.
If we were to instruct people who simply wanted to learn the language, minus the school drama, it would be so easy! All the students would be so grateful to hear the target language presented to them in ways that they could understand to actually learn what the language sounds like and be able to decode it with their eyes and ears.
But, in schools, it’s different. We have grammar/translation enemies looking at us. We have administrators who don’t trust the current research because they have been swayed to do so by teachers who are afraid of it. We have kids who shouldn’t be in the room.
So, here in the mud slugging part of the year, I would like to suggest a way to schedule a 55 minute class for those of us who are pretty much exhausted by the slugging, by their efforts to deliver an entire class period of CI. If this is not you, stop reading.
Those of us who are tired now need to watch our mental health and not get exhausted by the fact that we are, in a way, trying to do something nearly impossible, and that is to bring current research into buildings that don’t really want it.
So, for those interested, here is what I have been doing lately in my 55 minute classes, just to be more gentle on myself, something Duke has been working with me on lately and, if the research that he and Jim and I are doing shows what we think is possible, will really take some of the CI pressure, if you will, off of my shoulders:
1. The kids come in and I play some twexted music – to set up Friday’s class, more on that later) – while they settle in quietly with a book for 10 minutes of FVR. The song ends and the kids move into a nice period of FVR.
2. I then write a simple grammar sentence for translation. They translate it in their composition books. 3-5 minutes. Kind of a brain break because it takes them into the part of their minds that don’t learn languages, but it placates the school watchdogs (see last blog entry Throw The Dog A Bone 1). By throwing the five minute grammar bone out there, the grammar critics are silenced, if that is possible.
[Note how different these first fifteen minutes are from a standard CI story type of class. The kids are actively reading and writing. They shift from reading to writing, and only then into the CI. They do three activities – two that actually have value – in the class. If the research that kids can only handle 20 min. of input at a time, brain break or not, then it seems that teachers trying to do a story all class period are setting themselves up for some blank stares. Maybe CI would work better in shorter spurts. Just a thought.]
3. Now class starts, 15 to 20 minutes later than usual but I’ve been resting, doing less CI because I am tired. Same weekly schedule: stories on M/W, readings of the created stories on T/Th. Twexted music on Fridays. (The M/W story CI is harder to do than the T/Th reading CI – it just is – but the class goes by quickly and easily because 30 minutes of CI often feels like five minutes of fun.)
4. So, in 55 minutes, with the first 15 – 20 minutes being described above in steps one and two requiring, in real time, about twenty minutes, then I only have time, if I am going to do the Quick Quiz at the end of the period (five minutes), about 30 minutes for the CI. This is, on some days, a good thing. 
Again, this plan is not ideal. But it helps me sleep better. It is a response to the strong invisible negative pushback in most school buildings to the rather bizarre idea that best practices in teaching something as human as conversation (which is what language is) is best achieved by human conversation.
(Personally, if I had my choice, I would rather learn Russian from Michele Whaley by speaking with her – she first for a few years – than by her setting up some really cool stuff on the web for me to learn from. I can’t learn as well from a machine as from a human.)
If you are not currently in a classroom, if you haven’t ever tried to do TPRS in a typical American school where most teachers are using outdated methods, you could never understand the feeling of invisible negative pushback, perceived threats that aren’t there. The invisible world is exploding with lack of communication.
Yes, with the above plan there is a feeling of restfulness in the evening when I go to sleep knowing that the next day I don’t have to try to drag 55 minutes of CI into each of 5 classes each day. The FVR and the short grammar lesson preceding the CI and the quiz just make things easier.
I don’t do this schedule all the time. Just on those days when the mud flies into my eyes with all the other crap I have to do as a teacher. We deserve restful days in our classrooms. We don’t have to work ourselves to death.
Everything I get about Krashen and Blaine is that they are humanizers, and when things are more human and less robotic, life is easier. We can actually take a deep breath and enjoy our jobs.
I have noticed, and maybe we can discuss it, that some of us, me included for the past ten years, forget that what we offer is not always wanted, and selling stuff to people who don’t want it, who think that high heels will get them over the mountains, is exhausting.  That’s why we got to keep on truckin’.



12 thoughts on “Throw The Dog A Bone 2”

  1. Ain’t it. We can think our own thoughts and try our best to interpret Krashen in our classrooms and not feel like we have to implement his ideas perfectly every day. We can screw it up. We can do it badly. We can, and should really, try to get that we don’t need to reach all the kids in the room all the time, especially if the kid is not yet a fully conscious human being, because they aren’t perfect either, and are beset with considerable social anxieties in this painful time in their lives of growing up in a half nuts society ruled by machines and greedy people where the focus is not on human communication but on achieving and getting. We can forgive our administrators for thinking that it is possible to fully differentiate a classroom with 35 kids in it. We can forgive them for judging us about the differentiation piece. Like Mike said, they’re shooting off rounds in the sky because they have been told to do that at this point in time. It’s all impossible so we try our best. We forgive our students, we forgive our bosses (bless their hearts!), and we forgive ourselves. Makes me think of that Merton quote again. We keep on truckin’.

  2. Amen. Can I get a witness? Invisible negative pushback is very real. I recently got sucked into it and found myself moving from CI to grammar in level 3. The pressure of not conforming to the “best practices” of my traditional colleagues becomes a heavy weight to bear as the lone CI practitioner. One explanation leads to another until a student cries in frustration because she doesn’t get it. Huge wake-up call. There is, I thought, no way to placate the grammar beast and stay in CI all the time. A CI hybrid ceases to be CI. It is exhausting and the kids are more often than not more interested in their grades than anything else. Interestingly enough, the grammar emphasis caused them to beg for more CI! With that said, it is true that they all are not buying what we are selling and judicious doses of grammar as Ben has outlined may sooth all of the critics – both those on the inside and outside of the classroom. Michelle Whaley once suggested making worksheets available for those who were interested. To that end I have posted worksheets on their website along with the answers. They can knock themselves out. We invite the kids to play the CI game; sometimes to survive, we have to learn to play a game too. Music is the great hook we have. I have not had time to perfect the twexting format, but they do love it. I had gotten away from doing a lot of little quizzes, but they are critical.This post could not have come at a better time.

  3. Thank you! For permission! I do MORE beating myself up – on a daily basis – because I don’t reach YOUR level of teaching (as I perceive it from reading your blog daily)….
    The message I seem to be getting from God….is that Less is More. Haven’t put that into practice yet…but you painted a picture of what it might look like!
    Merci, mon ami:)

  4. Maria I write well about my own trials and what I learn on my own teaching voyage, but I ain’t making no big claims. None of us are. We’re all learning, all of us at our own level of teaching, and that’s a good thing. This is not self-effacement or modesty, but a fact. This stuff is really hard. We are the ones flying the kinds of planes St. Exupéry flew, and someday they’ll look back and see how alone Krashen based teachers really were in 2010, with 90% of teachers still teaching the way they did in 1977, or camouflaging it with technology, and I know that because I was teaching in 1977. So many teachers claiming to base their work on Krashen but bullshitting. So many teachers, so many of them, missing the entire point about Krashen, reducing his monumental work to what they want it to be. Reducing it to something they can understand. Making it so much smaller than it it is so they can feel safe and not have to do the hard work of growing into comprehension based teaching. If I didn’t have Paul Kirschling to talk about this I’d go nuts. I write well about my own trials and what I learn and slough through on my own teaching voyage, but I have a long way to go. It is forever unfolding and it will never end. I got an email just now from Andrea and she is young but she’ll never teach any other way and that gives me great hope and faith. Our tendency to judge our own work, to take our own inventories, is bad now, here in November, so we need to just relax, do less, as you say. Because less really is more – Ted Sizer got that right. And the kids are really gnarly this week, at least in my school. Move ’em apart. Take the time to do that seating chart and enforce it’s ass. We’re not going to pull it all together tomorrow, but we can keep the discipline clean with new seating charts and faith in each other. We kind of have to know that we’re not alone and just relax, trust in God, don’t we, with all the other bullshit we have to do during the course of a day? We’re all doing fine. Just don’t make me teach the old way and I’ll be fine. Make me teach the old way and I quit tomorrow. That’s what the bashers of Krashen don’t get. They don’t get what we know. They think they do, but they don’t.

  5. Thank you Jody. Seems like early August and middle of November can be hard times on teachers. But I heard Mary Ann Williamson say once that it is all in how we perceive it. Those kids aren’t trying to bust our chops, they are just trying to survive their teenage years. We are the adults and we need to step up and love ’em and help ’em and not let their “pauvres ruses” get to us. At least we have a method that reaches them. Ain’t it.

  6. Chill/Carol what you wrote made me think that there is grammar and then there is Grammar. I mean, is it such a bad thing, when the kids need to go into another part of their brain from all the intense CI – like I said above as a sort of grammarized brain break – to go into a short grammar lesson? The thing is that I don’t teach grammar, I teach Grammar. What is Grammar? To me, it is subject verb stuff. Anything to do with that. How big boy verbs meet and interact with big boy subjects. That is a very elaborate and BASIC dance in languages. Focusing on the differences between the imperfect and passe compose, that’s a waste of time. Same with possessive pronoun forms and a month on the subjunctive in English (madness!). They’ll get that over time. Anything that they can easily get from contextualized comprehensible input (by massive repetition of the language over years) is grammar. But, for my level ones, they really like breaking down the basics of how sentences are built. We have competitions to see who can translate a sentence correctly first, and I get to run around the room, occasionally shooting a basket when I go by the hoop, as I look at their answers, looking for perfect sentences. It really is a lot of fun – they go nuts if they don’t have it perfect. I’m talking level ones after four months of CI here. Subject verb agreement and correct form of the sentence. The only problem is keeping it less than five minutes, but it can be done. I hope none of the experts on CI are reading this. But yes, there is Grammar.

  7. Yup. Gotta survive in the system. Do the most meaningful we can in the time we have but also give ourselves breaks. Remember that even a less than perfect CI class is miles better than a class with fill in the blank worksheets or other nonsense.

  8. One kid, spoiled on stories, today refused to the Grammar segment. In my last life, I could have easily pulled the power teacher move on her – do the work or else! I chose not to. I gently said, “Well, as long as you have this by May, and I am available after school, that’s all I care about.” She did the work. We make ourselves crazy trying to get kids to learn things that they don’t perceive as important, in this case correctly so. So this comment is just to add to the current discussion here about taking it easy on ourselves. I find it very hard to forgive myself for not being perfect, but God is helping me. (I make no apologies for bringing God in on my blog. First it’s my blog. Second, it’s my conception of God – I’m not selling anything. Third, I need God to help me be a teacher, because I can’t do this job by myself.)

  9. Once I realized what the system is, I was able to relax about it a lot more. I understand why the students can be so crazy at times. One day, I asked my students to answer a few questions – School is like… and teachers are like… The overwhelming response is that school is like a prison and teachers are like prison guards. Wow. I know that many students don’t view our Spanish class that way, but it gave me a bit of a perspective of their lens in which they view their environment.
    After that, if they were a little crazy, I knew why. They are deficient in so many areas [personally as well as academically] and the system is slowly numbing them to the idea of learning. That would make me crazy, too!
    It helps me to take a step back and just realize what they are going through and if I need to take a break or let them take a break, I think that is fine. A break we take today could maximize the input for tomorrow. They will feel rested and so will I.
    I agree with Dirk. We have to survive in the system and let our little horses get some fresh air every now and then. Otherwise it just starts to stink.
    Great post Ben! Thanks for the encouragement.

  10. Today my kids are writing the National Russian Essay Exam, so I am watching them write…I don’t know that this is something I would choose to do if I hadn’t set it in motion years ago. But the one thing I can say is that nowadays, my kids do a pretty good job, compared to pre-TPRS, when a lot of them looked at me, looked at the assignment, and shut down right away. Now they are used to doing occasional ten-minute writes, getting somewhere between 100 and 200 words, and they know they can. Even my most recalcitrant kid, who had me for remedial English last year, is writing a bunch. He would absolutely not write in English. He grinned at me today when I told him I knew he would do a good job.
    So I’m having a break, two days in a row. I took the chance to drag out some other things that were pre-CI for my level 1 students–verb pictures–and got kids to use them as story starters. That gave me a break, because I didn’t have to prep anything, and it gave the kids a break from having to create from whole cloth.
    I too am glad for this post. It’s a weird time of year, when we are all heading into the psychological and physical stress of grading and holidays. It’s helpful to remember that the kids have all their own stress, added to that of the adults around them.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben