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Ben Slavic

Today 4

More Circling with Balls but only one new card today. Too busy reviewing and limiting to set up the first quiz on Monday, the quiz that we have gone over so many times (Jenna plays soccer in Wonderland – the yes/no stuff that is so easy) so that the kids will all EXPERIENCE SUCCESS on the first quiz.
Today I realized that it really is best to do what is described in the Today 2 blog post from earlier this week – severely limit the content and work with pretty much one sentence all class, with plenty of comparing with me and other kids in the class and chanting, using specifically mais/but in almost every sentence, and mieux/better a lot as described in the formula offered in that post.
I also noticed today how the kids got so much nicer so fast through the week and looks of mistrust were replaced by smiles. I think it was because some kids dropped the class. And it was the bad asses who dropped. Hmmmm. What happened?
People new to teaching are often surprised when their good will towards all kids in the room is met with the harsh reality that not all those kids want to be in their class. This can be brutal. The kid, who plays along for a few days, studying the teacher, calculating angles on how they are going to “play” the teacher, suddenly emerges after a week or so as a jerk who has staked off a part of the classroom as his own.
What went wrong? How could the teacher’s good will and assumption that all the students in the desks really want to learn the language be dashed in this way? How on earth could wanting to teach kids and help them backfire on a teacher?
The answer is that, in those first few days, the teacher probably failed to norm the room sufficiently. The first few weeks of a language class are for personalizing the room and making clear through consistent modeling the fact that the rules will be enforced. This alone can guarantee that there will be no discipline  problems later.
Finger rule #2 was the one that I enforced the most this past week, the first of school. Nothing on the desks. Rule #1 was easy, the kids got that it is a listening class right away. Rule #3 was easy, maybe took two classes to assure that they wouldn’t repeat anything back to me. #4 and #5 were really easy – that is what we do all the time.
But the thing is, what I noticed, was that as the week progressed there were fewer and fewer bad asses in the room, the kind of kid above who can chew up a new teacher. I really think it is because, beyond merely norming the room with my classroom rules and the five finger rules all the time, while Circling with Balls (mainly basketballs, footballs, and soccer balls – these are 9th graders), I absolutely stopped them on every single instance of:
– head on desk (happened about four times all week in all my classes and I stopped it cold with finger rule #2
– talking over/side conversations (Classroom rule #2)
– I  modeled what I will start doing if I even SEE a cell phone in my class, or earphones – I have a big plastic K-Mart goblet that I walk over and collect the phone in. But I didn’t keep them this week, that starts for real on Monday.
Work hard that first week. Love them extra. Be the strongest one in the room. Chant more. Go ever so SLOW-Li. Tolerate nothing, let nothing slide. then watch the bad asses go looking for a class where the teacher will allow them to be control a part of the energy in the class. Or, in one case, a bad ass became a good kid like overnight.
He was testing me and he lost because I have great rules and I enforce them and I put out twice the energy now in doing that than later in the year. After the first two weeks of that, reap the rewards by being able to just have fun and do really productive CI with the kids because the bad asses have all left.


  • Laurie
    August 26, 2011

    I beg to differ Ben. I think he won. Big time. So did you. Total win-win.
    with love,

  • August 26, 2011

    I agree with Laurie – he won. He found the firm boundaries that he needed to feel safe. Now he knows that he doesn’t need to protect himself in your class because you will do that. Expect him to test the boundaries from time to time – he needs the reassurance that you care enough to be firm.

  • John Piazza
    August 26, 2011

    Ben, I have a question about using more than one set or list of rules in the classroom. I really like the five finger approach and simplicity, but I can also see the need for the longer list of rules that will reinforce behavior once the class get off the ground with stories, PQA, etc. Are you working with both lists simultaneously? Do you introduce the five finger rules first, and then introduce the bigger list later? By week two are you referring to both lists, and how do you keep kids from getting confused?

    • lori f
      August 27, 2011

      Thanks for these, Ben.
      I’m wondering how rule #3 of finger rules (don’t repeat anything after me in any language) works with Susie’s “What did I just say/ask?” I don’t want to confuse my students, so I need to understand first how these work in conjunction.

  • Laurie
    August 28, 2011

    hmmm….I think I need to see Susie again. :o) I am now wondering about the correct response to “What did I just say?” I always thought that it was the English translation of what she just said in French. Or…is it the French she just said? Obviously we should make this clear to students…but now I’m wondering.
    I have my kids trained to translate to English when I use the Spanish expression…”¿ y en inglés?” which becomes “y en inglés cómo se dice ______?” or ¿ y en inglés qué quiere decir____________?” as we move into upper levels.
    I’ve never thought to utilize a ‘What did I just say?” in order to get a response in Spanish (good for 4%ers? an additional way to get interaction? ) Has anyone used “What did I just say” this way? If so, how’d it go?
    with love,


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