Toughness and Kindness

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28 thoughts on “Toughness and Kindness”

  1. I agree. Laurie’s posts have helped me surmount some difficult obstacles (external and internal) that I have been facing in my classes recently. Just walking into a potentially resistant class with Laurie’s three basic principles in mind (I am here; I am glad that you are here; I will decide what we do), can transform the dynamic in a very short time. Can’t recommend her blog enough, for emotional as well as pedagogical support–which she well knows, go hand in hand.

  2. This is the easiest piece of teaching to gloss over–because it challenges us to face our own vulnerability and history. It is the hardest piece of teaching to quantify and actually DO, but the one that counts the most. Laurie Clarcq is my conscience–not a judgmental, harsh conscience, but a compassionate one. She makes me “look” at myself and ask questions.

  3. In a stack of otherwise pretty positive self-relfections over a freewrite today, I got this gem:
    “I feel Ive done good. The picture and actions help but doing the EXACT same thing everyday bores me and a lot of other people. consider changing.”
    Luckily she doesn’t have many, if any, friends in the class. The poor girl doesn’t even know how hurtful writing something like that is.
    -EXACT in all caps because she really feels it to be true
    -bores, the worst insult to give a teacher
    -a lot of other people, because if I don’t care about her, at least I should care about everybody else
    -consider, as if I don’t already think a lot about teaching, and as if I may not change even if the truth of my crapiness were to slap me in the face–because I’m so stupid and BORING and detached from what my class needs and feels

    1. Hi James,
      I’m curious about whether or not you were asking for feedback from students about the class? Or was this unsolicited?
      The times I’ve asked for feedback about my teaching there are always “gems” like these. I’ve since stopped asking for feedback about my class because I do not find that it helps me in my craft at all. I do ask my 8th graders after having them for 3 years: What activities have helped them acquire language the most? And I give them a Paulo Freire quotation and ask them to respond to “How do you think learning another language leads to an understanding and/or acceptance of another culture?”
      In terms of self-reflection, I have them self-reflect on retells of stories since I almost never officially assess them. I often have to go over with them how to answer questions like “What did I do well on this retell” and how can I tell that I’m improving, and what I can improve on next time. I think I have to make these questions more specific however because I get a lot of “add more detail. I’d love to hear ways other students self-assess. I also have them self-assess. on the interpersonal mode during stories-I think this is helpful because then can look at how they do from one class to another.

    2. Ok James,
      First off…here is a hug. ((((((((((James))))))))) This is the WORST time of the year for teachers and for kids. Everything seems far, far worse than it really it.
      You are exhausted. Your schedule and your classload is very, very difficult. I beg you to find any way you can to take care of yourself so that you do not get too physically and emotionally run down. Be as nice to yourself as you can. If you can’t, call a friend and ask them to do something nice for you. You need it. You’ve earned it.
      Second…..I want you to see what you wrote: “In a stack of otherwise pretty positive self-relfections over a freewrite today, I got this gem:”
      A STACK of pretty positive reflections. A STACK!!!!!! Every single one of those letters has as much value as the one negative one. So, out of how many 20? 40? You got ONE negative? :o) You hit the jackpot! It’s my experience, with kids and adults, if you ask the question, be ready for the answer. Many people ASSUME that you want the negative, so that is what you got. And only one. I promise you that one is a tiny, tiny, tiny number. Do not let one letter have more power that a STACK of others.
      You could not make them all happy if you a) tried harder b) were a saint. No can do. They are kids. They whine. They complain. (Just like we do when given the opportunity.)
      Now, I know that you care about this girl, and you do not want her bored in class. That is why you try so hard AND why it hurts to for her to say that she is bored. This particular issue is coming up in several places right now…some kids “feel” bored. Nine times out of ten it is because they are not really paying attention and giving it their all. They aren’t giving their 50%. They are giving enough to “get it” but not enough to be involved in it.
      Options you can offer her:
      1. The job of story writer, illustrator, quiz maker etc. Something where she has to stay involved and on top of things. Give her some extra credit points for it and help her feel like she has a special role in the class.
      2. A list of the types/number of different activities that you actually do. This is a good thing to share will all of your students. Look!!! Here are all of the things that you can do as Latin students: formulate a story via interaction in the TL, comprehend an oral story and illustrate, comprehend an oral story and act it out. Etc. Etc. Etc.
      3. Ask her some really challenging questions during storyasking and compliment her when she can answer them. If she truly is so advanced that she is bored, she’ll enjoy them. If she can’t answer them,, then the issue is that she isn’t involved enough.
      Over the next two weeks, see what else you can find out about this young lady. Is this air of superiority part of her personality? Do other teachers see evidence of it? Is she an over-achiever or a perfectionist? My guess is that there is something (good) going on in your room that is pushing her out of her comfort zone and she doesn’t like that. The better you know her, the more you will understand her. The more you understand her, the easier it will be to understand why she is critical.
      Consider the option that she was just having a crappy day. Really. A million things can make a young girl’s day awful and even if nothing went wrong, hormones can make it feel like everything is horrible.
      You are a nice guy. Kids know that. They appreciate that. There will be times, however, when nice guys and gals catch the crap that kids wish they could dump on other teachers. It’s something we have to find ways to deal with.
      It is not your job to make teenagers happy. It’s your job to teach them. Say that to yourself as many times a day as you need to.
      Yes, we want a positive feeling tone in the room. Yes, we want them to feel safe and cared for. Yes, we want them to be interested. BUT, if we are doing our 50% (and my guess is that you often go way beyond that) WE HAVE DONE OUR JOB.
      You have done your job. For this girl to be happy, she needs to do her 50%. If she gets involved via some of the options above, is acquiring language, and still isn’t happy, that is not your problem to fix. It isn’t. Say a prayer for her and keep teaching.
      I don’t know how old she is, but adolescents change on a dime. Be patient. Be good to yourself. Forgive her for being crabby. Forgive yourself for being human. This too shall pass.
      We are with you. We think that you are doing great things. We know how hard you work and how much you care. She’ll figure it out down the road. She’s only a teenager right now.
      with love,

    3. James, first, sorry that her comment “got” you. It would have gotten me too. You and all of us care so much and work our butts off, so little off-handed comments can sting. But it’s not about you, we all know it, it’s more about her.
      I strive for variety, and it’s tough sometimes. Anything that brings movement, gets them out of their seat, bumping up against each other, brings the laughter and relief. Recently, a few gems:
      Frozen moment: 2-3 students portray a moment in our story or novel. I take a photo. Great for retells and sharing with other classes.
      Draw and tell: I use the opaque projector to get their illustrations up on the screen. I require DDD (Dark ink or pencil, Dialogue, Details).
      Preposition chant: I created my own, happy to share it. We do it about once a week. When they’re decent at it I have them close their eyes and I say it out of order as an assessment. Sometimes I have a student do it out of order. It’s hard but they like the challenge
      That’s a snapshot. Maybe it will help. Ben

  4. James, I have very little experience with feedback, so I was wondering if you have found students’ self-reflections valuable in general? Are your students responding to specific questions or making general observations based on their impressions? How much do you rely on the students’ input?
    How much of it is genuine?
    I’ve always wanted to try something similar with 3rd graders toward the end of the school year.,
    but think they may be too young.

  5. …and on a -totally different note- I just remembered a suggestion made by Blaine or Karen Rowan to add an extra credit question: “Tell me something that has happened lately in your life.” (in L1)
    Different type of feedback, of course.

    1. Cathrina, the phrase I use, which I also got from Blaine, is “What’s going on in your life.” It’s amazing what my teens tell me, how much they reveal, how much I have to learn about their struggles. Not everyone answers, but many do.
      Another thing I do is ask students to close their eyes and show me with their fingers how big their homework load is. 10 fingers = Gonna pull and all-nighter. 0 = no homework. I frequently see kids with 6-7 fingers. Of course, I have to interpret it considering some kids are overly dramatic or just procrastinate their homework, but it gives me a picture of what their load is.

        1. Ben if that homework estimate by those kids is true then homework continues to be a burden on their young lives. Our job is to remind ourselves about how we ourselves assign homework, as largely optional and connected to input only so that it becomes a positive choice rather than a negative burden for our students. We can’t change how others give homework in their classes, and there is tremendous pressure in many schools on teachers to give homework, but we have come up with some pretty creative ideas about homework in our CI classes over the years and we must honor our children in what we assign, which all give the kids a choice. We must continue to remember that our entire CI programs have as their purpose to give children a completely positive experience in school, and not one which is burdensome. Let other teachers do that. At some point someone will hit the light switch on the homework issue and all teachers will see what current visions of homework are doing to kids who are already at a breaking point in our society. When the light goes on, the scene thus illuminated won’t be pretty, but we will be able to say that what we are asking our students to do in our CI classes is the good and right thing that honors them and does not destroy their interest.

  6. James what is it that you do that is exactly the same each day? I would like to explore this area of variety, the brain craving novelty, the need for kids to get out of their seats especially if they are younger. The reason I say that is that I am thinking that if we were to create (together here as we do) a book or primer that specifically addresses the idea of a wide variety of strategies in CI classes at the lower, mid and high school levels it might help us.
    I am not saying that such a document could help with those rare kids like the one you describe, who, and I agree with what was implied above, SHOULD AND MUST be discounted because they are snots and there is usually one such snot in each class we teach. I am not thinking about those snots but I have been thinking lately after hearing Carol Gaab float that phrase “The brain craves novelty” if we might come up with a book/document to address it.
    And look my brother – you are teaching 8 classes. Think about that too. And one kid complains? Because her parents taught her to do that at the dinner table over years? That is just like so many of us – we have a great track record, the kids love our classes, one kids makes a comment (and I agree with Ammemarie that we should not have asked the question in the first place because it does not help us in our craft) and that one random intentionally hurtful comment causes us pain and we take it home and even sometimes into our sleep. I call that crazy stuff.

  7. James,
    First of all, read Laurie’s post, print it out, and keep it in your pocket. I think I am going to do this, because she is speaking to what you, me and so many of us struggle with right now. Laurie, thank you .
    I wanted to add a few thoughts that came to mind as I read your post, and can really relate to what you are feeling.
    — You mentioned that most of the responses were positive. Don’t lose sight of that. There are always going to be those who don’t understand and don’t want to be a part of what we do, and grumpy teenagers having bad days!
    –Don’t ask for feedback when you know there’s going to be a lot of negative sentiment. I made the mistake of doing this recently, because I said I would to some skeptical parents, and because my dep’t chair encouraged me to do so. I have the responses in a drawer, and I need to be in the right mental space to read them, and be able to separate the constructive feedback from the destructive feedback.
    –I think it was Laurie who also mentioned that we have to be careful about what we want from our students, and make sure it is not validation. We are there to support our students, and if we want thanks or congratulations from them, we are barking up the wrong tree, except for those rare moments that we all cherish.
    –in my school culture, there is too much focus on the teachers already. Kids and parents spend a lot of time voicing their opinions about who is a good teacher, who is actually teaching them something, whatever that means to a teenager or a parent who knows nothing about pedagogy. I feel like the ball is in our court too much already. For this reason, I really like what Annemarie said about encouraging students to reflect on their learning, what THEY are doing to make progress in their language learning. The more we can smack the ball back into their court, the better it is for them as well as for us.
    –remember that you don’t answer to the negative kids, or to their parents. I am feeling very very vulnerable in this regard. I just got an email from a “concerned” parent, suggesting that I’m not teaching the kids anything, or going fast enough through the curriculum. I know rationally that my department chair and admin support me, but it is still pushing my buttons, evoking my insecurities, as I struggle to make a cultural transition happen. James, I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions, all of which are probably affirmative: 1. do you have tenure? 2. are your classes full and growing? 3. are your administrators satisfied with the job you are doing? If the answer to these are yes, then you have nothing to worry about. You are doing your job, and doing it well.
    So take what you can that is positive from this kind of “feedback,” and remember that the rest is just noise, and move forward, doing right by your kids, all of them.

  8. Thank you guys for all the feedback. I really do appreciate it. The girl was responding to a question about “look how far you’ve come on your freewrites!” I wasn’t really expecting feedback about my teaching, she just took the opportunity to grace me with her expert opinion.
    Thank you, Laurie, for your kind post. I’ll be re-reading it for a long time.
    Yeah, I have already discounted her remarks. I am not taking them seriously.
    This brings up something else, though, that I’ve been thinking about lately, though. This “brain craves novelty” thing. Maybe Ben can make this topic a stand-alone post here because I’d like to discuss it in more depth. Basically, I am unconvinced about the premise, or at least about what it means to our daily routines and our pedagogy.
    Here’s what we do in class. I speak in Latin in ways they can understand and they pay attention. Or else I give them a reading they can understand and they read it and show me they understand it. Those are the two things we do. Of course there are spins and twists on those–using actors, dictation, movie talk, cartoons, etc.–but, really, isn’t everything else a waste of time?
    I have a low tolerance for B.S. Sorry, Ben. If an activity in class isn’t streamlined for simplicity, I’m probably not going to use it successfully.
    Honestly, I feel pressured by the “brain craves novelty” thing. I have to be a clown on a stage, now? Psh! Just listen and read and we’ll have fun and laugh together and learn the language, too.
    I dunno. That’s just where I’m at now.

    1. James, I hear what you’re saying. It can feel like a lot of pressure to be constantly creative or cater to the students’ whims, which is impossible.
      I have a chart that took that famous Carol Gaab quote & made it easier for me to do. When I had that uncooperative group of 7th graders a couple years ago, I started gathering ideas for what works as Step 1, Step 2, and Step 3 of TPRS. I pulled ideas mostly from this PLC. When I want is to focus on auditory input, I look at the Step 2 chart of ideas. My difficult 7th grade class was like a pressure cooker to diversify what I did each week. I wasn’t going to give up CI, but I didn’t want to be miserable at school, so I had to find game-like CI for them to be happy enough. This saved me a lot of hassle because it “hid” the fact that we had the same goals every week. Also, some are very easy to pull off without any prep, and others are saved for when I have enough energy to do more prep before class. Or, some are easier on me during class, so when I’m tired I do those.
      I still do this with my chart (which needs to be updated). I do the same Step 2 or 3 activity with pretty much all levels in that week, and write it on my planning book. If I note grumbling about an activity, I can avoid it for a while. I’d rather they “miss” an activity and ask for it.

      1. I am just wondering what me doing more L&D and MT etc. would do for this particular girl. It would still be me speaking in L2. And she would still need to listen. I think, honestly, that some kids just don’t want to listen to us talk. Maybe their brains are craving the novelty of me shutting up. But I can’t do that. They need the input.

        1. Oh yes. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything but she herself that would need to change for her attitude to improve. I have experienced the same problem with students not wanting to hear me — or for that matter, do what they’re asked, or not be the center of attention, or talk in English whenever they want, and so on.
          My chart helps me feel I’m doing my part with variety without my going nuts. If they still won’t/don’t enter into class with joy, there is the pain of the Interpersonal Communication skills rubric and their grade takes the hit, and/or parents are contacted.

      2. So we all want to see that chart and your list of brain breaks, which are on the Forum but need to be here in a new article linked to that category. Even if that chart needs updating, Diane, I am sure that there are people here who want to see it, if you can dig it up and put it in a comment field below.

        1. Ok – two files in my Dropbox, with the links shared here. I think, though, you might need a Dropbox account to access it…?
          Three requests of the PLC with these documents:
          1. When I started gathering ideas, I didn’t keep track of source & teacher who I heard it from. If you know whose an idea is, please add that info to the document.
          2. If someone can clean these up & improve them, please do! Send me the improved copy!
          3. If you share it outside the PLC, can you let people know I compiled it? Thanks.
          Steps 1 & 2 ideas:
          Step 3 ideas:

          1. Oh Diane! Everything you share and teach us is worth gold. Pure Gold. I love everything about your ideas and activities and will mention your name to anyone willing to listen. From now on I will try to remember to use “graphic boxes” to insert ideas. Much better visually than vertical lists. How clever! Thank you for the hard work you put into collecting and organizing and then letting us all benefit from it.
            Organizing my thoughts,activities,stories, target structures, grades, props, pictures, quotes,books etc etc has been an ongoing struggle for me. This is one huge step towards seeing things clearer. Credit: Diane Neubauer

          2. Ditto what Catharina said, Diane. Many, many, many thanks for these two charts. These are getting printed and posted at my desk, so that whenever I can’t think of what to do before, during, or after whatever CI activity I’m doing with my kids, I can just sit and pick a box off your charts! Even with the simplicity that CI teaching brings (talk with students in language they understand and limit new words), I feel stressed when I feel the need to vary my ways of doing that. Not anymore! As Catharina said: PURE GOLD.

    2. James you said:
      …if an activity in class isn’t streamlined for simplicity, I’m probably not going to use it successfully….
      That is a really powerful sentence and the one thing I notice in our group is that people could not possibly do everything we talk about. There are too many ideas and that is why the brain craves novelty thing put a bee in our bonnets.
      We need simplicity in this work, absolutely. BUT there is the thing about how long our kids can focus, the one minute per year of how old they are thing.
      So a new interpretation of the brain craves novelty thing, James, is that maybe the kids’ brains just need a break more often. Maybe we don’t need to give them anything novel, because each new sentence of a CI class is new and novel CI, but in doing that we might consider giving them a novel little break like a quick game of silent ball or whatever. I am on a tear going around observing DPS middle school classes this month and what I see those teachers of younger kids doing is getting kids out of their seats a lot more than I ever did in my high school classes. And come to think of my eight years as a middle school teacher, when I learned about TPRS, I found myself giving lots of brain breaks. They really liked Silent Ball.

  9. In the need of some inspiration I recently re-read Diane N’s very useful list of brain breaks on the Forum. Another simple idea I found online is to outline the target words/stick figures using painter’s masking tape so they don’t get burried on the board. I used tape also to outline the schoolbus on the carpet where our story took place. Nothing new or original, just -slightly slightly different- from what I usually do. Now with little kids it doesn’t take much.

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