Turning Things Around for a Resistant Class

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8 thoughts on “Turning Things Around for a Resistant Class”

  1. Yes, I have seen a successful transition with a 7th grade, very resistant class. Some of it was my teaching way too much over their heads in terms of comprehension, at first. I was new to CI as my whole approach, and they were recovering from a bad textbook with way too much vocabulary in it. The class also had a group of 3-4 very, very competitive boys who believed (at least one of them did, he told me!) “my learning style is competition.” I had to learn to provide CI in smaller doses that sometimes felt like games to them. There really were a variety of challenges about teaching that particular class.

    The story of how this turned out is in old posts here, because Ben & this PLC were the reasons that class became something that was CI but still met them where they were. I think searching “Diane Neubauer” and looking for dates back in 2012 would find them.

  2. Yes. I am currently (and briefly) teaching at an alternative high school. Their previous Spanish teacher left after 3 weeks or so into the year. She was nice, so I hear, but taught out of the textbook. For another 4 weeks or so the students were taught using an online platform, called Plato. They were working out of the computer program everyday. Then I took the job. They were ready for the personal interaction. They’ve been eating it up! Granted, I have a few students in each class that have difficulty holding that steady, calm, sustained attention we are looking for; that sense of rigor. But it has been a sweet deal! It is not a small thing to mention that my admin is altogether supportive and kind. That makes me feel warm and confident as I stand in front of the kids. Teaching has come effortlessly here. I feel in no rush, aware of when and if I go out of bounds, feel playful enough, and teach to the eyes.

    The class you speak of is, perhaps, different than my experience right now. And I’ve taken a job in the middle of the year at another school where it was a complete disaster and I had to give up trying to teach CI, let along teach anything of substance. But, the whole Spanish department was in shambles and the school admin was hostile. So, I commiserate with Ben when he says that sometimes classes have fallen off the deep end and can’t be saved.

    Perhaps try spending a couple of days doing something fun with the kids, if you can. Like Improv/Drama activities. Zip Zap Zoom is a quick, start-up example of arranging conditions for students to interact with each other spontaneously. You can move up to this activity called Dr. Know-It-All where you ask for 5 or so volunteers to stand in the front of the room and answer questions (profound or silly) from the class, but answer the questions one word, one person at a time. Chicago’s Second City Improv has a pedagogy based on creativity and improv. I can share more if interested. Maybe after this playful interactive stuff they will warm up to you and the TCI.

    1. Sean said:

      …perhaps try spending a couple of days doing something fun with the kids, if you can. Like Improv/Drama activities….

      Ditto. This breaks the ice and makes a huge difference. Instructional time lost? Absolutely not.

  3. Sean I am interested in your improv resources. I’m having a hard time this year with group chemistry. It might be too late for this semester but I’d like to start off in January with a few more tools.

    I’m noticing that kids are resistant to listening to each other in all of my groups. I feel like I have failed to create a safe and respectful atmosphere. Something happened today in class and I wasn’t even aware of it. This is scary obviously. With that group I will just do story listening and dictado for awhile. But they are so volatile and there always seems to be some sort of drama going on and it is not isolated to a couple kids. Like whack a mole, I never know what will pop up.

    1. Hey jen. I was looking for the folder of activities given to me during my Second City Improv for Creative Pedagogy session I attended last year. I’m afraid in my move to a new school it has been misplaced.

      Generally, the idea is to get students to listen carefully to each other so that they respond to and build on what their peers have already said. It’s that whole “Yes, and…” in stead of “No, but…” axiom to all things improv. But kids need lots of help with this. The Zip, Zap, Zop, game is a start for students to exercise their ability to follow the point of focus in the class as it jumps from student to student unexpectedly. Then building from there. The only other specific activities I remember using (granted, only in my heritage Spanish classes) where the Dr. Know-It-All activity I describe above and the Panel of Experts activity. The Panel of Experts involves having 5 or so students in the front of the room. They imagine they are experts in whatever field. Could be basketball. Could be worms. The audience then asks them questions about their field of expertise. They have to make up an answer.

      I’m sorry I don’t have any other activities to share, but I imagine you could find some out there… any activity that involves the whole group; requires that every student listens carefully to their peers as they respond and build on the dialogue; involves playfulness; emphasizes the “Yes, and…” improv axiom; and gets students moving around. I found that it’s important to start with very simple, easy, straightforward exercises that don’t require to much verbal response from kids, like the Zip, Zap, Zop game.

  4. …I feel like I have failed to create a safe and respectful atmosphere….

    Maybe you have, but don’t discount their fear of showing up in your classroom as real human beings. Now THAT is scary to a teenager who has been trained that showing up as a robot is the way to get through school. You are pushing a lot of buttons in that class by just asking them to do the most basic requirement needed in any CI classroom, just to look at you and make eye contact! Our best students are not the smartest, nor the most hardworking – they are the ones whose parents have made eye contact with them in their homes as they grew up.

  5. I had an experience with a french 2 eight grader group. They had subs all throughout french 1. It was a class of 38. I tried tprs but they couldn’t handle it. There were like 10 ring leaders! So, I mixed it up with various activities. It still didn’t work. When I went to the book there was relief. When I had them do an oral exam there was relief because the school culture is heavy testing. This class had several adults fail them by not sticking around. Some were volatile towards others and I felt like I couldn’t tell my admin being a first year teacher. Just surviving is the best practice.

  6. I was just rereading these posts after a difficult week. Thank you all for the wisdom you share. I will craft my survival plan over the weekend!

    This really hit me hard:

    “Our best students are not the smartest, nor the most hardworking – they are the ones whose parents have made eye contact with them in their homes as they grew up.”

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