Tree Branches

What goes on in a typical classroom reflects the mental stance of the teacher. If the teacher is uptight, the classroom will be uptight. If the teacher is spontaneous, the classroom will be spontaneous. If the class is heavily planned with all sorts of fragmented/eclectic activities, the classroom will reflect that in the form of confused students.
What is most important?  The teacher’s demeanor. If the teacher is happy, the students will learn. This is a heavy responsibility. And what makes a teacher happy? Realidades? Uh, not in my world.
We must remember why we are in the classroom. We are in there to work with kids and help them on their road through life. We are here to make the language accessible to them, by making it relevant to them.  How do we make it relevant to them? Realidades? Uh, no again, pas pour moi, pas pour moi.
I posted on this idea and made a metaphor about it some years ago on the listserve and reproduce it here in an expanded form:
If the tree branch is too high, the teacher must pull the branch down to the kids’ level so that they can reach the fruit.
Making them jump and flail for the fruit (using materials that are confusing or going too fast in stories) does not work. They won’t get any fruit. How do we choose which branches to pull down? We must pull the branches marked with the letter L down first. This is the listening skill. We acquire languages by listening to them.  Susan Gross has said, “If they aren’t hearing the language, they aren‘t learning the language.” This point cannot be repeated enough. Another branch can be pulled down pretty much right away – reading – it can be pulled down very early, then the writing branch, and, when it is ready, the speaking branch.
If the branch representing any skill is too solid for the teacher to pull down, the teacher must get another, lighter, branch to pull down. This means going slower, pausing and pointing, circling properly, and generally exercising compassion for the fact that the students don’t know the language. The CI tree has so many branches, and we can pick. Just like when we were kids, we had trees with favorite branches. Now, mine is personalization. And I am thinking that the most important branch is not the listening/stories branch but the reading branch. Luckily I get to learn about reading from Jason Fritze this summer.
So by pulling down the lighter branches when first learning, both teacher and children are happy. And then we get stronger and pull the bigger branches down. And slowly, we notice something: our kids actually enjoy our instruction. Then, we worry less about testing (there will never be an accurate test to measure what I do in my classroom – not even close), and we play more, and we actually like our jobs and it isn’t one big drama session every time we meet a colleague and talk about all that shit we talk about.
Some day we will all be very strong. We will reach even the top branches. Especially with those Krashen trampolines down there under the tree.



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