Video – Sean Lawler

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52 thoughts on “Video – Sean Lawler”

  1. Hi, Sean,

    Wow — thank you for sharing — amazing video.

    I noticed a low-level background noise. It continues into the entire video… what is it? Sounds like voices or audio….

    1. hey Leigh Anne. Thanks! It’s really nothing special, this class on this day. In fact, I was actually really frustrated with them that day. They were speaking way too much English… too many side conversations and squirreliness. Thankfully, this past week, they were much better. I had to talk with many of them during hour study hall and call some homes.

      Yeah… the background noise is of students chatting. The camera was in the back of the room and there were too many students chatting in the back. Argh!

      1. leigh anne munoz

        Sean — I am so impressed that you are able to ‘keep the faith’ with CI in your school. What persistence!

        Questions (again, I am so impressed with your calm demeanor during these videos — I can’t even begin to fully express my admiration):

        Does your school offer other languages? If so — do the other teachers of the other languages have large groupings of students with IEPs? What is the reason/rationale for your particular grouping of so many students with IEPs? Is it just convenience for scheduling? Is world language study required for students in your school? Why are these kids in language classes?

        One year I had a group of 7 students with IEPs mixed with wanna-be-gansta jocks and a few regular kids. I could barely get words out of my mouth! At my school, due to a dearth of vocational classes, language classes are dumping grounds. Many students end up in California world language classrooms that would without a doubt be better served by CAD classes or classes other than world language. World language classes make such intense demands on the attention span of students with learning disabilities, especially when they are surrounded by other students with learning disabilities. Also, in my case, my students with IEPs have parents who are convinced that their child with moderate autism will make it through a 4-year university. Or, maybe the parents just want their kid to be treated like any other kid. I can understand that. But in your case….who is making these kids take a world language? And, why? It doesn’t jive for me..

        I just have an intellectual curiosity — sorry to be so nosy!

        Thank you again for sharing, Sean — I have to admit that, since you joined the PLC, I’ve been reading your comments and have been very curious about your experience…

        Just sign me — Left-brain Leigh Anne

        1. Thank you for the comments, Leigh-Anne. You and Ruth both were asking: all the kids I teach are required to take a foreign language. 2 years of FL are required to graduate from high school in Illinois. In my school, it’s a matter of economics. Spanish also functions as an elective. We do not have an art, nor to we have a P.E./ health class for our high schoolers this year. We are strapped. The kicker is that our management organization, CICS Civitas, is hoarding millions. It’s frustrating that they are holding onto this money when we so desperately need it being spent on things like another dean, or a music program.

          Regarding kids with learning disabilities / or learning differences, I generally have a good amount of success with them. 30% of students in my school have IEPs. It’s the 1 or 2 Tanzmanian devils in just about every class that I struggle with. These devils may or may not have IEPs.

        2. Oh, and Spanish is the only FL in a small school. We are a small school. Yes, all the IEP kids in one class is done so for convenience because our SPED teachers need to be able to serve them, getting their required minutes in. My school, ChicagoQuest, is doing some great things. But we serve kids, basically, that don’t do well in the traditional setting. And with the selective process that happens in Chicago’s high schools, we attract kids that don’t otherwise do well in school, normally. Like Diane mentioned below, it’s true that our kids’ needs aren’t being met in the same way that they would in fully-funded, well-rounded schools. We’re trying to make that happen. It’s too bad that most of rounding-out of the schools programs is on the shoulders of the teachers and not the community.

  2. Thanks for sharing! And you shared PQA, which is for me the hardest stuff to do. Hopefully more and more of us will share video.
    Things that I liked: you went slow, gestured a lot, had a calm delivery, were riding the CI river to wherever it’d take you, and that girl was comfortable running to the front of the room to dance!

    1. Thanks Eric. Those good vibes are much appreciated.

      I do appreciate the difference between MovieTalk, which is much more planned and scripted, if you will, than PQA, where teacher and students really work off each other. PQA can be a lot of fun as long as my students aren’t derailing the Spanish train as much.

  3. Yes! Thank you! I think I’ve said this before, but video on this blog is like water in a desert. (This blog is not the desert, though, of course. My daily experience is. lol.)

    I’ll give these a watch as soon as I can and give some feedback if I have anything new to add by then.

    I’ve got some video I need to edit. Hopefully it will be up before the end of the break.

  4. So, I just spent the last hour putting together 10 minutes of video. Most of the video I have on my computer has students’ faces in it, and I don’t know the legalities of posting video of kids without consent, so I’ll just post this one, with the camera only on me. I had to try to keep myself in one spot, which isn’t usual for me, but I succeeded for the most part this particular day.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Jim!

      You gave them a lot of targeted CI! And sounded like they play the game and management wasn’t a problem.

      I also liked how you had the story script in MadLib form on the board. What a great way to support and guide the students. By doing that, you guaranteed the story would stay on the tracks.

      For whatever reason, I had assumed you were older 😉 It’s cool to be able to see one another in video.

      1. Sorry Sean for lack of feedback from me, I watched the first video and had some thoughts but will have to write later (after reading the plethora of responses you’ve already got from the group). Hope to watch the second sometime later… but I’m on break so could be a few days.

        Yeah, my kids buy into the gross and strange sometimes, or maybe I just do and it passes over to them. I don’t know. I almost abandoned the image (you probably saw that reaction in the video when it hit me) because the kid was being pictured eating toenails, not a real attractive image and something I won’t do to a kid unwillingly, but then I asked him if what I had drawn and written was correct he said “no, 1 pd of ketchup too”, and that made me laugh and know that his sense of humor was up to the task.

        The mad-lib script thingy Eric was not up during the story asking, but I had partners make up their own parallel story after the storyasking, and then we passed them around the classroom and they got to read them all.

        And Eric, I’m 50, I just stay in really good shape and eat well.

        Not really. I’m 32.

        Catharina, these were 9th graders, Spanish 1 nearing the end of the block semester (so they’ve had somewhere around 75-100 hours not counting all the interruptions and missed class) in a rural Minnesota town of 1300 people, k-12 in one building, good kids, not perfect, but yes, this group I’ve managed to get on my side behaviorally nearly 100%.

        Nothing like what Sean and others are having to deal with in terms of motivation and behavior in struggling communities.

        The famous people on the walls has been something I’ve been doing for years now. I post the picture of the singer who sings the “song of the week” and usually do not take them down. I call them my Wallflowers. They are always there if I need a bail-out character, as Ben suggested.

        1. haha. Exercise & diet = Fountain of youth for Jim Tripp.

          About the MadLib thing: I want to give my kids a MadLib for all the stories I’ve done this year so far. Recycles language. Scaffolds output. Creates readings. And could be used for assessments, if you have to do that sort of thing. This is going on the Xmas Break To-Do list. I would like to revisit all the stories and language we’ve worked on thus far.

    2. ¡¿97 libras de uñas?! ¡Qué asco!
      Awesome, Jim! Thanks. It’s great to see how you interact with your students. It’s clear you are focusing on the message being communicated, not the language itself so much. What is it that Eric says: focus on function, not form (I might have that wrong).

      Also, I might steal the idea of posting up pics of famous people on the front wall to always have them to go to. Good one.

      1. … I might steal the idea of posting up pics of famous people on the front wall to always have them to go to….

        That’s the power of an image to refocus a group. Images capture the attention of the brain like nothing else. I should really add it to the Bail Out Moves category. We’ve talked about this in some of the threads we’ve had on Look and Discuss over the years.

  5. Jim I justed started watching and was wondering what grade these kids are in? what level Spanish? how many hours of TCI ? Sounds like 8-9th grade?

    My very first impression is how you stay 100% in L2 !! Amazing.
    Must watch the end and then also Sean’s videos.
    Thank you! Thank you! for letting us in your classroom.
    I will film myself one of these days teaching little kids.

  6. I appreciate you pushing the topic, Ben, on social-emotional development…

    I have to admit that this particular class period was frustrating for me. A handful of kids were not displaying the interpersonal skills I expect of them. This class can be very on-point… and, luckily I have them in the morning before they get tired of school. But, there have been times when they are like this. So, with the interest of being real with ya’ll, I shared these videos.

    Ben, my initial response on the social-emotional piece is the struggle of building trust between me and the students. Building trust is difficult and takes time. It takes time for them to see me as a reliable, stable, trustworthy teacher who has their well-being at heart. They go to a school where 1/2 of their teachers and administrators from last year either left or were fired. Their school is being threatened to shut down. Two of their teachers this year, their art and P.E. teacher, were taken from them and moved to the Middle School in October. And then their home lives: I can think of only one student in this class that has both parents at home. To no surprise, that student, Betty, is the quite, studious young lady at the front-right of the screen.

    Ben, the conversation on reaching students of poverty can be a complex one when considering the big picture: community, family, economy, and education . But it doesn’t have to be when we’re talking about education: 1) We need stable schools with well-paid teachers who spend several years, if not their entire careers at one school. 2) Our schools need fully-funded arts, health, and music programs. 3) We need smaller class sizes. 4) We need adequate support services for our students; counselors, psychologists, social workers, and security guards.

    This is what our beloved Chicago Teachers Union is fighting for. And this is what I’m fighting for with ChiActs, Local 4343: a union to organize charter school teachers. Little by little, our union is helping teachers mobilize in charter schools across the city.

    … I’ll write more in a sec…

    1. …we need stable schools with well-paid teachers who spend several years, if not their entire careers at one school….

      Stability is so precious. Honestly, I see such grass roots American values in your teaching. I’m glad you chose to share video from an off day.

  7. Some more practical thoughts:

    I think I failed to address Kisean, the boy in the front that I danced with, and his disruptive behavior in class. Not just Kisean, though. Camerin (the bigger boy in the front) and Bria (the girl that came up to the front) as well. In my head, I’m thinking, “I know you can do this. I know you can quitely listen, sit up, square shoulders, clear eyes, and respond to my CI. Let me give you another chance.” But, in the mean time, the Spanish train gets derailed for everyone.

    Granted, I had a private conversation with Kisean and Bria later on and since then they have both performed solidly. The likelihood of them performing poorly again in January is pretty high, though. With Camerin, I had to talk to mom on the phone. That did it for him. He came back to class respectful and attentive. (Oh, I also switched Bria and Camerin’s seats.)

    That said, I have a handful of students in other classes that have bugs in their pants. They really struggle to sit quietly and show me their eyes for any more than a couple of moments. And some days are worse then others. Since I can’t really send these kids to the dean (our dean is overwhelmed), and since calling home doesn’t help with these few, I have to find ways to work with them in the classroom.

    So, here’s my plan starting in January: If a student is especially disruptive because the stimulation in the classroom is too much for them, I will give them earbuds and an iPad where they will listen to a video-recorded version of my teaching a class. The student will have to watch and listen to the entire recording and complete the quick-quiz, CLOZE, or other writing exercise that is presented in the video. This will require me to videorecord my 1st period class (my superstar class) and upload it online, and provide any needed handouts, like written narratives, a list of the targeted vocabulary structures, the CLOZE exercise, etc.

    It’ll be a significant amount of prep to do with these handful of kids, but doing without their disruptive behavior is more than worth it. I’m actually really looking forward to starting this accomodation. I plan on talking to my dean about it the first week we get back in January because, ideally, they could do this independent work in her office instead of in my classroom.

    Really, it’s just a couple of Tanzmanian devils that can destroy the experience for everyone. I need to better accommodate for them. Like my wife, who is a SPED teacher for preK – 1st grade, said, “These students need to be in smaller class sizes. They need to be in groups of 5 or 6.” The smaller group size resonates with me. As much as I want to think that every student in my room can learn from the CI instruction happening, the reality is that a handful of them can not handle the stimulation. They can not sustain focus, not even for 10 minutes.

    I do hope that after a Tazmanian devil spends all that time doing that independent work, he’ll (yes, unfortunately in my case they are all young, black males) want to get it together, exercise some self-control, and introduce himself back into the classroom.

  8. Thank you, Sean!
    I don’t teach in the inner city, but I recognize some of your students. I teach a whole range of students in a semi-rural setting. Many of them live very comfortable lives but others deal with a variety of personal and family challenges relating to poverty, broken families, parents in prison, homelessness, unemployment, death in the family, disabilities, depression, alcohol and drugs. We have to see connection and social-emotional security and growth as huge pieces of what we try to give them, no matter what subject we are teaching. Thank you for this picture of your patience, calm, and big heart. You understand the balance – one foot in the language and one foot in your kids’ world. You never leave them.
    As far as your CI goes, I saw SLOW, personal, inviting without pressure, inclusive, repetitive but varied, calm, checking for understanding, good gesturing and pausing. You seem really comfortable with it and with the kids.

    1. I appreciate your comments here, Ruth. Especially, the “one foot in the language and one foot in your kids’ world. You never leave them.” I hadn’t thought of it like that before. Despite my feelings of inadequacy with getting kids to ride the Spanish train without derailment, I can say that I don’t leave them. If they fall off the train I don’t work on roping them back in. That’s a comforting feeling to live with.

  9. Ben, it looks like you took down your commentary, but in those comments you mentioned that it took me 5 minutes to start class. Yeah, it took me longer than that. The video clip you are seeing is probably like 10 minutes into class. I had lots of students arriving late, and I was giving new seats to some students.

    Is it problematic that it took so long to get students to settle in and settle down? Sure. I mean, I could have students do a silent writing activity as a mind warmer. But honestly, starting class with a reading exercise in the L2 is really difficulty for many of my kids. I’ve found much more success in starting class with aural CI.

    Here is my beginning of class procedure:
    After the bell rings, I quickly take attendance on my roster on my clip-board, I turn on the classroom lights, I walk to the front of the class, and before I greet the class, I expect every student in their assigned seat, their mouths closed, and their eyes on me. If the class is being difficult, I give a Cold-Call quiz where I ask a question, something as simple as possible, like; “Is John present or absent?” I pull a name from the Cold-Call container (popsicle sticks with students names on them) and the student has to answer. If I have to, I tell students that they get an “F” on this Cold-Call quiz if they answer wrong, and “A” if they answer correctly, even though the reality is that this Cold-Call quiz has virtually no significance in the gradebook.

    But the first period of the morning, with this class you see on the video, is a little different. Students trickle in late. The trickle in 2 min late, 5 min late, 10 min late, 15, 20… This is the reality of most high schools in Chicago. So, what I do is feed off of the good vibes of the students in the room and begin a conversation with them. If they are chatty, I wait. It is the beginning of the school day and I sincerely want them to have a pleasant transition into school. I want that force-field like shield many of them put up on their way to school as a means to avoid danger on the streets, to come down. I want their stresses to melt away.

    If an admin comes in at that time, I’ll just pull out my Cold-Call container, put on my mean face, and maybe apologize to the class after admin leaves.

    1. Hi Sean,

      I look forward to watching more of your videos – and thank you for sharing them! I started just a few minutes of the first one, and your level of calmness and consistency was striking. You have such difficulties to overcome — like to have 1/2 of the faculty and staff turn over every year! I have heard similar stories from a woman who taught Spanish in a charter school in Milwaukee. The number of needs is tremendous. Every child has them – it’s just that many are not being met adequately for your students, as you described above. What a great thing you are doing for these students.

      1. Thanks Diane. I appreciate your encouraging words. There are difficulties, as you say, and I do believe they can be overcome. It just takes some time. I’ll get there.

  10. Sean I pulled that commentary because your video brought up some stuff in me that is really charged. The comment I took down showed me, when I reread it, that I don’t have the race piece clear in my own mind, perhaps since I am a white male, so I better not go there. That is true even though half my career has been with kids of color mixed with white kids.

    Keyshawn in particular just stayed in my mind. All I could think of was, “How to reach Keyshawn? How to reach and honor Keyshawn? How to make Keyshawn feel successful? How to make Keyshawn feel like he’s not bleeding to death right there in class so he can learn Spanish from you?”

    I mentioned the class starting late as perhaps a way to start a discussion on poverty here, which is what Krashen calls the root of all the problems in American education. But again, I am not Marshall B. Rosenberg or Jeff Duncan-Andrade and I have not developed a way of communication based on empathy – well, I kind of have – but I have not experienced what my students of color experience on a daily basis, so before publishing anything about it I decided that I should do my own work in that area myself.

    Non-violent Communication is Rosenberg’s book. We don’t want our kids to experience violence when they learn. We want our children to feel safe and free and fed when they learn. Indeed, how does one learn if one does not feel safe and free and fed? How does a child learn, how does Keyshawn learn, when faced with violence?

    You see, Sean, you are the opposite of just about every teacher these kids have every known. That is why I mentioned the class starting late. In my view, doing that was the right thing to do because it was non-violent. I thought of a million things about Keyshawn and wondered how many times a teacher got in his face because they wanted to start class on time.

    I wondered why Keyshawn was bleeding (emotionally if that Kleenex wasn’t there because he had a real bloody nose). I wondered if Keyshawn had stuffed a Kleenex up his nose and see if that could piss you off to see if he could get anybody to love him in the process. I wondered how Keyshawn could learn Spanish if his basic needs (to be loved?) are not being met.

    I love the way you ignored the Kleenex, because Keyshawn could have gotten a lot of grief from another teacher in that setting. Look what you did. You calmly returned again and again to your lesson, to what you are paid to do, and Keyshawn got that and even though no one saw it, you pulled your chair of friendship one inch closer to him that day, and he moved his one millimeter closer to you. You did not threaten him. Michael Brown felt threatened. But you are not an officer on the Ferguson Police force. You are the opposite.

    You do not feel the need to torture or attack. Your teaching is a model for all public servants on the Chicago Police force and in Chicago Public Schools. For it is not via power and force and intimidation that we will meet our goals to make a better society from the one we are in now, but through dialogue and visible respect, which you modeled in the video.

    What would have happened if you had sternly started class on time, the way we are taught, the way that doesn’t work in all settings?

    You started class late. There was no violence in your instruction. Chicago Public Schools does not know what they have in you. You are compassionate. Might they have checked that box along with the Did Not Start Class on Time box? Probably not. Because when they observe you they are there to judge you, not reward you for setting an example of how to reach urban kids, finally one teacher doing that through love, and not from power.

    You were so kind in that video. You stayed in the TL and did not confront, which in the lives of some of these kids (we must not generalize about kids of color), is all some of them have known, and you were clearly reaching a lot of them, all those to the right and behind Keyshawn, and a lot more than any other teacher I know except maybe Brian Peck in Detroit.

    Anybody want to see some great CI? Watch those kids to the right. Why is it great CI? Because they were listening to Spanish and understanding. They were hearing you, Sean, in a setting that would send most of us to the Old Folks Home by the age of 40. Your one PQA sentence about who was wearing black clothes that day with those kids was strong. My question for you is not about when you start class, but how can you in a loving and non-threatening way (do you even use jGR?) get them to be silent during your instruction?

    No, the starting class on time is not that easy in certain settings. I admired everything about what you did in that class. You stayed on one sentence. In another setting – a more privileged one where school policy, white policy, and poverty don’t ravage kids’ hearts – that sentence would have been polished off via full circling in five minutes. You did so well, Sean. My heart is with you. Nobody knows how hard teaching is. Or being a student.

    You explain it in your comment above this way:

    …what I do is feed off of the good vibes of the students in the room and begin a conversation with them. If they are chatty, I wait. It is the beginning of the school day and I sincerely want them to have a pleasant transition into school. I want that force-field like shield many of them put up on their way to school as a means to avoid danger on the streets, to come down. I want their stresses to melt away…..

    The whole thing brought up in me a big need to always keep the discussion about developing the social and emotional needs as well as the academic needs of our students. When are we going to have that conversation? When we will begin to confront our own limited thinking about this work and have that conversation?

    Hope that make a bit of sense….

    (Another book to write could be called Teacher Violence. Not the overt kind, just the grinding little insults by teachers to children every day. But that is not my book to write. Mine is called Let’s Get Better at CI! )

  11. Teaching with violence… makes me think about Greg Stout sharing how effective it was to point to the jGR with a smile, and doing so as many times as it took, with joy, when a student talked over him at the beginning of the year. Yeah, I’m guilty of expressing violence through body language or speaking harshly.

    There are certainly times when some behaviors require speaking sternly. And, I’m beginning to appreciate more how some students simply can not handle the large classroom environment without excessively disrupting the instruction. I’m looking forward to putting into place the plan I described above for these disruptive kids come January.

  12. People talk about education in theoretical terms. They write books and give Ted Talks. They are far from the center point of this work. You are on that point Sean. I come away from this video with even more respect for you and your work in Chicago than I had before, and that is saying something.

  13. So my big take away from this video Sean is your ability to not react in anyway but kindness to your unruly students. It is easy to think that all the problems that teachers encounter in a classroom are caused by the kids, but they are often made worse by the reaction of the teacher. This video reminds us to keep our thoughts to ourselves about our students and shower them with patience and acceptance no matter what. That is a lesson for us all.

    Developing this kind of patience is of particular importance with stories, perhaps, because in what we do there has to be an invitation to help co-create the story, and when children sense the slightest bit of disapproval, they shut down, so then how can we get a good story going? How can people who feel threatened move past that and into community? You show us how, Sean, by modeling trust at every turn in your lesson.

    This is indeed difficult work, but I think that all of us here, especially the newer teachers, can learn much just by observing your patience and kindness. I would hope that you can stay with these kids. It would give them stability. If you can, Sean, you have to promise to send us some video in a year or two of these kids. It is quite possible that they will be at a much higher level, if you just keep doing what you are doing now, even if it is only one sentence a day. It will go exponential on you once the trust is there. Plus, the kids will get some stability with you, which could be something great in their young lives.

  14. More random thoughts on Sean’s video:

    The entire reason teachers here put themselves out there with video (what is more raw?) is obviously to get dialogue going about how to get better at this work. It’s not to show off how great we are because we all can improve at this. The question about our use of video in this community is, “How honest do we want to be?”

    The work we are doing is about social and emotional development. It is what sets our CI instruction apart from traditional instruction. We are at the opposite end of the spectrum of the ACTFL Language Educators who think that it’s all about academic success. That was proven in our recent ugly discussion with them.

    (And proves why we need not waste our time talking with them again in the future. They are not doing the same work we are doing, even though their job descriptions are the same. They are on a different wave length.)

    Our work is about inclusion. It is different work. Our work with comprehensible input cannot succeed without the social and emotional development piece.

    What about kids with IEPs? Do they get to be included in this discussion. This brings up what David Young brought up here about what he is experiencing in Kansas City.

    What about the social and emotional development piece in education? I live in a gun-toting part of Denver where most of the people would say not to try to teach kids of poverty a second or third (Latino kids) language. So, is American education just for the privileged?

    Sean could do anything professionally, as we who have been reading here for the past few years well know. He does this work instead. Same with Brian Cass Peck, who seems to have disappeared from the discussion here so I will send him an email.

    I think Brian is on a Teach for America thing in Detroit. Does he fulfill his commitment and then flee to the suburbs where obviously he, with his great talent to be a CI teacher could cause him to thrive. (iFLT Denver and Chicago people who saw him in action in our war rooms know that he has STYLE)?
    Here’s another question – if some of us were in Chicago, teaching our languages in rooms right next to Sean’s with kids from poverty, what would we do? What would our experience be?

    Kids need first be recognized as members of a social fabric and then that engages the academic piece second. Indeed, that is what language is, the thread that creates a social fabric. In the light of this point, our Circling with Balls strategy takes on more sparkle, right? That is why I couldn’t see starting an academic year without that fantastic strategy.

    I’ll say it again. My definition of foreign language education includes the social and emotional piece as well as the academic piece. It is about the building of community.

    The social and emotional and even the physical piece (brain breaks, calming music) have not really been formally discussed with others in my career. We have not yet been able to fight ourselves out of the wrong idea that language education is purely academic.

    And yet, with the shift to comprehensible input and learning as a reciprocal and participatory back and forth event that is the defining theme in foreign language for the 21st century, we can now see that the academic bubble depends entirely on the social and emotional bubble to happen.

    Now we can see how extensive the shift to comprehensible input is. We see now how it can bring real change throughout our society. It is now time to include Keyshawn in our classes. Sean is starting it. His patience with Keyshawn will result in few obvious gains, But the gains will be there nonetheless. Sean is reaching Keyshawn. Does the observing administrator see it?

    Krashen might finally be getting his wish re: how our nation must address poverty (access to libraries, reading, books, stable teachers who see deeply into what America is all about) because of his own gift to us of comprehensible input, because it all has to become human now. It can’t be robotic anymore. Sean and Brian and the others of us in these hard urban settings are heroes.

    The social and emotional piece. Hmmm. Perhaps we need to first go with Jean Gibbes’ work on this thread:

    Important related articles:


    1. I get a little choked-up reading your warm feedback, Ben. You know, I work very hard to refine the craft, just like everyone else here, and at the moment, in my current school, I’m not getting the positive feedback I need from my admin like I did at my school last year. I’m a sensitive guy. I need positive feedback. I can handle the negativity from students much better if I had more positive feedback from my admin like I did last year. So, a million thanks.

      I totally agree about posting honest, mediocre videos. Just like Jim just did on this thread, I would really like us to share more average-day videos. (Though I imagine Eric’s latest awesome MovieTalk video was an average day for him.) There are so many nuances we pick up from each other on how we interact with our students; little nuances that make a big difference in keeping the instruction fresh. I also believe that we’ll experience less burn-out if we accept that we don’t have to be great teachers everyday.

      Let’s promote CI teaching as a self-sustaining career choice partly by telling ourselves we don’t have to be great everyday. Let’s share how we turn a not so good situation into a learning experience. Let’s share those mediocre videos!

      1. Thank you Sean. One of the causes of teacher burnout in my view doesn’t come from outside ourselves. It’s how we react.

        And then there’s the piece about loving ourselves even if we aren’t perfect at this work. Few people are. There are just too many factors bringing us down.

        So I really resonate with your point here:

        …we’ll experience less burn-out if we accept that we don’t have to be great teachers everyday….

        And about those administrators. You were lucky last year to have one who could support you. Most administrators I know have so much on their plate that it’s a wonder they can even come to work every day. Bless all of them too!

  15. Hey Sean! I finally got around to watching you teach. What struck me most powerfully was your kind patience. Your whole energy was open and loving in such a grounded genuine way. This is the root of it all. Everything Ben said also resonates deeply for me. I agree that what we are truly “teaching” (or trying our hardest to mirror to kids) is the social / emotional inclusion. I loved watching you reel kids back in over and over without force or anger.

    There is so much to say about that. Building trust. That is such a long road, I am only now discovering. I’m not in a big city like you, yet the similarities with your group are striking. I am not even “teaching” per se, but working with some kids in an after school program. Not even doing language, but I am bringing in some Spanish (honestly, as a “modality” to work toward some mindfulness practices–gives this a more concrete foundation). And it is the exact same dynamic. Except I am way less skilled than you and I am only there once a week so that makes me feel sometimes that I am not really doing anything. And I continue to show up.

    It gives me hope watching you, because you did not yell or otherwise scold the kids. I saw kids gesturing along while you spoke and asked questions. This proves that you have pierced the armor so to speak. They understand what you say. The responses and gestures show this unequivocally.

    In the program where I work, it is in a school district which I recently found out has the highest heroin use in the state of NH. Lots of kids raising kids. Parents incarcerated or otherwise unable to be there for their children. Homelessness and every other kind of chaos. I don’t know the kids’ backstories, which I like because I can meet them in a clear space of seeing them individually. It’s obvious that there is much suffering. And it’s also obvious that these kids have great talents and interests that they don’t even dare to dream or express for fear of being squashed either physically or emotionally.

    It’s obvious that they spend their entire waking lives looking over their shoulder literally or figuratively. They are middle school kids and pretty “unruly.” I watched a man (? some school official? maybe a principal or vice principal?) come into the room and yell loudly at them, kind of like a military officer might yell. Boy they snapped to attention. And then when he left they went back to the chaos. So I am not sure how effective that is as a strategy. But I see that in some instances this is what is needed to put out brush fires. Since September I have tried to figure this all out. I am supposed to “send them out to talk to the site director” for any “behavior issues.” But when I follow this protocol, I feel like it is just digging deeper into the well-carved ruts. I send them out, they talk to him, they come back, they are disrespectful, I send them out…wash rinse repeat.

    I see that they don’t quite know how to react to me–this crazy lady that comes in once a week, smiling and asking lots of questions, trying to get us to breathe and saying “Wow! That is so cool!” And I don’t at all feel I have a handle on any of it except that these kids need stability and somehow to be recognized for the gifts they bring to the world. How the hell do we do this?

    Sorry to ramble on about my own questions, but watching you triggered all of them. This is so NOT about how much language kids pick up. Although of course it is, and your students are picking it up, as evidenced in your video with the gestures, verbal responses, kids spontaneously getting up to dance. In my idealistic view, as kids acquire language that they may not even notice, along the way we can give them ways to process what and how they are learning, and in that way they may begin to believe they are smart.

    Thank you so much for inviting us into your classroom.

    1. jen said, “I am supposed to “send them out to talk to the site director” for any “behavior issues.” But when I follow this protocol, I feel like it is just digging deeper into the well-carved ruts. I send them out, they talk to him, they come back, they are disrespectful, I send them out…wash rinse repeat.

      I commiserate with you on this, jen. I do think you are right that most of the conflict comes from being a new teacher, a new relationship to build with the students. I also think that every student is different. With some students, getting put-out will work. With others, talking with a parent will work. I have one compulsive student that I need to send to complete a task, like deliver something to another teacher, from time to time. But then, there are the Tazmanian devils. They have too much anger or apathy or lack of self-control for me to handle. I’m planning on plugging them into a computer for individual work until they are ready to handle the classroom environment.

      Please keep us posted on how things develop, jen.

  16. I logged on yesterday for just a few moments and for some reason Ben, your “Mildred” post was up. After this discussion here about Sean and his patient, loving teaching style and your Mildred post I wrote a response….but when I hit post it, and Mildred, disappeared.

    I posted it here :

    Hugs and love to all of you. YOU MATTER AND YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!!

    with love,

  17. Yeah Laurie sorry about that it was getting too busy here. What I will do is wait a few days and repost. There is one on Mildred and one on a guy named Miles and they both relate to what we were discussing with Sean. I will publish a link to your blog article as a separate article here as well so more may read it.

  18. Finally got to watch Sean’s videos. So powerful.

    I agree with everyone, and am amazed at how you stay the course, holding tight to the ship’s wheel. I cannot relate to the age group, since I teach young grades, but I recognize many features in my little kids. Some things come to mind that you certainly do.

    Sean have you tried getting the kids standing up and moving? Not leaving their seat, just moving their bodies. Like gesturing the verbs while -standing-. One verb after the next for 2-3 minutes, whatever verbs the kids know by now. I have found gesturing very helpful for kids with low attention span. It’s kinesthetic and the words do sink in. No questions, no interaction, no noise, no eyes closed. You say they do. Simple and basic.

    Something else Ben mentions that I find very helpful, are pictures. I point to photos, big photos.Sometimes the kids point to what I say. I say, they point. Again it’s kinesthetic, and basic. Very few questions, mainly listening.

    Dealing with short attention span requires a ton of effort from your part Sean. I switch activities sometimes every 3-4 minutes. Transitions can be difficult, but worth it.

    And I do agree with your wife, smaller class sizes is essential. It was hard to see how many kids were attending, but I guess 20-25. Is your class set up so you can walk freely around the seats and lean in gently on the kids that talk?

    There is only so much you can do, Sean, given the conditions. Your calm,gentle, compassionate way will stay with me for a long time.

  19. One more thing. (i’ve been thinking…)Have you tried throwing a soft ball when asking questions? I use a regular size basketball soft-pillow type that I throw to the kids. It helps with attention, and is a great distraction. One student stands up (I’d try with the boy to the left of the screen who ends up laying on the floor, he seems to need to get up a lot) and we throw and catch while I ask questions or check for comprehension L1 to L2. If your students don’t have PE/ Art/Music they must -sit- all day long. Kinesthetic-type activities help some kids process. I don’t like sitting for too long myself.

    It easy to give suggestions from my living-room sofa !

    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Catharina. More and more I see the importance of basic TPR, as you suggest. I’m learning how to toss TPR into the mix to keep kids attention. The timing and duration and ways to make it novel. I’ll keep working on that.

      You got me thinking about my seating arrangement. I have it like theater seating at the moment: one left section and one right section with the chairs all slanted toward the middle front. I laid masking tape on the floor to mimic this theater-like seating. However, you are making me think about changing that so I have a left section, middle section, and right section, with all the seats facing strictly forward. Then, instead of having one aisle down the middle for me to walk up and down, I’ll have 2 aisles. The 2 aisles would give me better physical access to all students so I can lean into the talkers, as you say.

      Ball-tossing. I feel like I do a lot of that. But, I imagine that some of the students could benefit from more of it. I should keep my “balls” (which are a couple of little stuffed animals) more easily accessible at the front of the room.

      I also hear you on the pictures. My thinking is that there are CI sessions, like in the 2 videos I shared here, where the classroom needs to be free from any external stimulation. Yes, we look at the OWIs, the story-asking illustrations, the L&D images, etc. But how about we focus solely on the teacher and students interpersonal interaction for a little bit, right? We want students to make their own independent mental representations from time to time, right? Nonetheless, I do think I can get better how and when I use visuals. What do you think about that, Catharina?

      I’m so grateful you took up some of that quality sofa-time to view the videos and give me your feedback, Catharina. Much appreciated!

      1. Sean I think you are GREAT! Your students should only be so appreciative to have the kindest gentlest most talented teacher. And you are right, sipping on tea while watching a video is easy. I’ve been thinking about this video a lot. And how teachers like yourself dedicate their carrers to help kids learn, and make their lives matter. As Laurie says so beautifully. I was thinking out loud about 6 year olds, and their short attention span. Reading it over I realize none of it would apply to older kids. Little kids are a species of their own.

    1. You’re right. The ball thing is lame with older kids. I’m just thinking in terms of kinesthetic stuff
      that gets kids involved physically so they have to pay attention. Or get pelted themselves.

  20. Catharina two things that you describe above are trademark Linda Li teaching characteristics. It also to my knowledge describes what Jim Tripp does. I wish I could do more walking around and gesturing as I am speaking. It’s a lot to remember! Here are the two things that you mention, both indicative of a really experienced teacher:

    …gesturing the verbs while standing….It’s kinesthetic and the words do sink in. No questions, no interaction, no noise, no eyes closed. You say they do. Simple and basic….

    …walk freely around the seats and lean in gently on the kids that talk?…

  21. Sean,
    It is so good to see you in your class again! I loved observing you in person last year and these videos reminded me of my visit. You do have such a nice, calm manner in front of your students…I strive to even begin to be that calm. I was thinking, after having read all of the great comments above, that I might try an upbeat song first thing to get them up and dancing…a la Ellen De Generes (or whatever her name is)… I love the dancey dancy thing first thing at the beginning of class. One of our favorites is the song, MY GIRL, by NOTA which is an acapella group that sings in both Spanish and English and the video is shot in Chicago. My students are always surprised to see big black guys singing Spanish. And I truly embarrass them by trying to dance! I tell them I will sit down if they dance, but will continue to dance if they don’t!
    Just an idea…and I love the idea of a chat along the lines of how to deal with inner city black kids. My husband of 37 years is black and our kids are half black…so when I get told that I am picking on someone “cuz they are black” the whole class laughs!
    It’s nice to be on winter break…time to rejuvenate 🙂


    1. Hey Louisa, I hear ya on the dancing to a song to start class. Jim says he starts class with a song as well. And Ellen, the talk show host, does dance with her crowd to start her shows, doesn’t she! What a great way to connect with her audience. I’m including My Girl by NOTA on my list of songs.

      I too try to pull in the Afro-American cultural connection. I used to expose my students to lots of Salsa. A couple of years ago I remember posting a pic of Celia Cruz to Look & Discuss, before I even knew about the bonafida L&D developed here. I’ve learned not to lay that on too heavy though. With the influence of Hispanic culture everywhere it’s pretty easy to make connections to black culture.

      Cheers to mixed marriages! My wife is also black. Our first born is due in February. Very curious to see what his nose will look like 🙂

      I appreciate you for describing me as calm, like some others have. It’s funny how I think I’m not. I raised my voice at least a couple of times, thankfully catching myself. While I may have had the energy and strength to raise my voice in the past, I really don’t anymore. I’m learning to communicate with greater weight through my eyes and body language.

  22. I got to watch both videos all the way through. Some thoughts:

    – You have such an even keel. Even when disciplining the girl who had a phone out (and who didn’t respond so very sweetly to being written up) you were calm and firm, and jumped right back into Spanish. You were never harsh. I feel like I get harsh and irritable if students interrupt me or aren’t with me, so this was good for me to see. You were able to maintain your focus while engaging students around the room.

    – I think you and I may start class the same way with reports on a few topics? Is that what the first video includes? I heard greeting – weather – clothing. I do those, too, but I show on screen what words we might need to use. So there is a list with some words related to the date, time, weather, whatever topic we are using to begin class. It’s a nice way to hit some of that kind of boring vocabulary often enough for them to acquire it over months of time.

    – I could understand almost everything you said, which for me is really something. (I watched Jim’s video, too, but I was really lost on the meaning except for knowing the story script — I think his class also had more time in Spanish classes.) I know very, very little Spanish. So I think you were being very comprehensible. I also think you were at 90% in Spanish — only quick discipline or checking for understanding in English. Were the stopping points in the videos planned or … ?

    – I can see how your plans for independent work for those who can’t maintain behavior in the whole class would help you and the students who were with you. I hope that your administration will be more supportive and helpful.

    1. Hey Diane. I do prefer to start class with a little “Check In” to talk about the weather or anything else that’s going on in our lives at that moment. I could benefit from showing a list of that vocab about weather, date, time. I also like to limit the screen time though, you know? Is it just me or do others get tired of having that projector screen on? I’ll just write a phrase on the board to focus on. If it happens to be raining, I’ll write “it’s raining”.

      That’s interesting to hear that you could understand me. I did only have these students for 8 weeks of class up to that point. And the majority of them are “slow processors”.

      I did not plan the video stopping points. I just video taped the entire period and choose two 10 minute clips that best captured me doing CI in the L2 to cut and post.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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