What Matters

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21 thoughts on “What Matters”

  1. I want to be an idealist and disagree saying that learning matters more… but you’re so right, Ben. Long-term, “What matters is that they feel as if they are learning” because in the real world, TPRS teachers are under intense scrutiny. Getting students on board, causing fewer parent phone calls and limiting the chances of administrators shutting us down is what matters.

  2. The baggage those textbook-taught kids carry . . . language acquisition so weak, fluency nonexistent, listening comprehension poor, misconceptions about how to improve in a language, and their target language self-esteem so low, and thinking languages are hard.

    1. Eric, I think that it’s intentional. How else to prove that Americans can’t learn ‘foreign’ languages? Provide them an “opportunity” to learn via textbooks and scope and sequence BS and you have the emergence of 4%ers. Really? In this day and age?

  3. And it’s not as if they leave all that baggage in the hallway when they come in to our classes each day. We have been so naive in thinking that stories can change them. Stories can only change first year language learners. And sometimes not even then, if the dinner table conversation at home is led by parents who were great in French (meaning they got As in the course by memorizing rules and so why shouldn’t their kid?). I call for a national moratorium against self abuse by TPRS teachers who think that they have the strength to teach kids who have been taught grammar in previous years prior to coming to us. Now I see that that trying to do that is just stupid. Today I gave my kids a self pace worksheet class and they LOVED it. They don’t like being taught grammar from the board, but the self paced time to fill in blanks makes their eyes roll back in happiness. I just walked around and explained why in that one blank it should be l’ not le because h is considered a vowel in French and so you make the contraction. Here is what will happen in a few weeks – they will want stories. They will not get them. I can be a shit, too. Of course, my best and most amazing kids are my 6th graders with no French background, or very little. So my 7th and 8th graders are all about grammar now. I wanted to read a story that we created and do stuff like Textivate and dictee with it. They chose the grammar sheets because they are so easy and what they think learning a language is really about. One reason is that they come from families of privilege. THAT is where the baggage is heaviest. Who am I to do stories when they would rather do worksheets? I still get paid the same amount of rupees and it’s so much easier and NOW finally I have figured out the key word to all of it – self-care.

  4. A key piece on this self paced work sheet thing – and I don’t blame the kids: it is hard to listen to teachers all day. And it is practically impossible for a teacher to get an entire class of kids learning the same thing at the same pace in the same way. BUT in schools if you pair kids you might as well call off class. So putting them into a self paced thing (if a group can do the worksheets together without talking I allow that) makes them think that they are in charge, no one is making them learn something from the board, and there is truth in that.

    1. Yes Ben. I’d like to say that I am still hanging in there strong after 12 weeks of teaching 8th graders who did not start with CI or TPRS. That class is 38 chatty students. This week I got sick and have been resting my voice and prepping much less than normally. I am not going to torture myself.
      I’m going to start grammar soon because they will go off into high school well they will know what it’s really like. Plus I imagine them getting sick of stories. I need to look over the textbook.
      Many of those kids do not want to listen and it is HARD for them to listen for such a long time except when the principal is in there observing me. I try not to take it personal. Normally i get in 10 – 15 minutes of CI. That’s good enough for me. In one class of 34 Level 1s, I am giving them about 20-25 minutes of uninterrupted compelling input. They love it.

      1. Love that last paragraph there Steven. Brilliant. I am glad we are coming to our senses on this CI thing. The fact is, as my colleague Amanda says, we need balance. And we have NOT been balanced. We need to get in balance with the grammar. My only objection to teaching grammar is that it is a physical impossibility to teach a CLASS grammar at the same rate. In my view it must be self paced, and for that to happen they have to be motivated. So it’s a tricky thing.

        1. The fact that we keep forgetting about CI is that it takes from 10,000 hours at the low end and for Chinese (Linda told me last week) up to 24,000 hours. And we have a small fraction of that and yet we teach as if we think our kids will know the language in three or four years. That is insane and we need to take a chill pill and go in to work next week and for the rest of the year and for our careers knowing that a) we can only get them to want to learn more after their time with us, and b) nobody is going to like us more if we teach them more.

          1. Self paced grammar is simply when they work at a table alone or in a small group that can stay focused (although grouping kids to do academic tasks is insane, really) at their own speed. I am convinced that trying to teach an entire class the same concept at the same time, as well as it works with CI input, can’t be done with grammar. At least I could never do it. Like a third of them might get it, depending on the concept. (Off topic: think of all the resentment that would build up in a grammar teacher, thinking that the kids are so stupid, how that would effect their bodies bc of the sheer joylessness of their endeavor.) Yeah, it’s just a quiet room where they go at their own speed.
            The real grammar instruction comes in the form of the interesting correct speech (because I define grammar instruction as when the kids hear and focus on the meaning of correctly spoken language). If we want to flatten it out into two dimensions, we follow Susie’s example of “contrastive” grammar:
            It’s funny – Susie is such a great CI teacher but you can also tell what a grammar freak she is from this article.

          2. Hey Ben,
            Is this the essential grammar freak in Susie coming to the surface? or is this Susie showing us how to not shelter grammar? I think the key is “Students should hear
            subjunctive from the beginning.” (But, I never met Susie, so I am just going by what I have read and seen.)
            This is one reason why I still use Usted Command forms. It is simply the addition of two words and and a pronoun switch and requests are being made indirectly in the subjunctive. This makes it sound easy, but it takes time for students to hear “I want you to sit down” as meaning the same thing as “Sit down, please.”

  5. I have had it go both ways, moreso since I’ve figured out how to articulate SLA and the subconscious power to students… but overwhelmingly kids I’ve inherited had appreciated the new approach. But this is mostly due to the poor teaching that preceded my appearance. They knew they weren’t learning jack in the old way, because the teacher wasn’t even adept at teaching that. Following a respected grammar-grinder or just getting kids who don’t want to communicate… that is a different story for sure.
    The positive latent of pushing through the push-back… you hone your skills even more and get quicker at reacting with bail-out moves and such. But I totally get what you’ve written above and support anyone who needs to care for self first by doing what they demand. Hey, it’s not like they won’t learn anything…

    1. Same for me, Jim. I came into a school with most students kind of frustrated by their previous experience in class, so CI was great for them. I don’t think it would’ve been much different in terms of resistance and pushback if I taught differently — there’d still be some of that regardless of what I did.

  6. Not sure if I would have changed anything, but my life would have been far less stressful last year, if I had been ok with doing more traditional work with the students I inherited from my ultra-intense grammar predecessor.
    Right now David Maust is working with his local university on a mentorship program for Latin teachers in training. Central to this program, for David, is educating new Latin teachers on how to navigate the particular school culture in which they find themselves, and using this knowledge of school culture as a gauge about how much CI and what kind of CI is appropriate.
    In the short term, we NEED students to be able to go home and tell their parents that they are “learning something,” even if that definition of “learning something” is completely false. The response: “not really, we just mess around and tell silly stories,” might be a description of the most effective CI classroom, but this is not acceptable for us professionally.
    Thanks for bringing this up, Ben. CI activism in the wrong school at the wrong time (or presented in the wrong way) can destroy careers.

  7. So, call me an idealist, but I disagree, to a certain extent.
    Kids, parents, and admin are not the experts. We are. It is our job to educate.
    If our program comes after a traditional one, then part of our job becomes providing language learning rehab services.
    We embrace the fact that we are teaching a DIFFERENT class – Students & Stories.
    Communicative classes in research and in my own experiences (e.g. placement test scores, talks with the high school teachers, and individual student anecdotes) prepare kids just as well for grammar tests with the added bonus that they can actually do something with the language.
    You see, most grammar teachers aren’t even teaching grammar well! We always need meaning and context. And we definitely need it broken down in smaller pieces. Trying to teach the entire verb chart for present tense verbs is BAD grammar teaching. Skipping the input phase is BAD grammar teaching. If the goal is accurate grammar usage, then there’s a lot to learn from a TCI class.
    This is not to belittle anyone who, for mental health reasons, throws in the CI towel, but I would continue to encourage the “Change Agents.”
    That said, mental health is FIRST. I finally had my own mental health epiphany. I struggle this year to get TCI/TPRS going with the 4th graders, because of the lack of classroom management. Be it my management skills or whatever, the fact is that I dread those classes and so I dread the days of the week that I have to teach those classes. On (Kohn) principle I’m against using any point system, e.g. Preferred Activity Time (PAT) or Pagame system. But I realized this week that I can compromise on my principles and save my mental health. . .
    Similar to what Mike Coxon is doing, I gave every kid 5 poker chips at the start of class. We went over classroom rules, me explaining what would earn or lose a chip. I taught them what “Please, give me one” means. At the end of class kids have to hand me their chips and individually tell me how many they have. No grades. No competition. No rewards. But for the 1st 5 chips lost, I want a handshake. 2nd 5 I want an “I’m sorry” to the class. 3rd 5 and I want an apology letter.
    Kids have been angels. I see that all along they’ve been able to “self-regulate,” so long as they want to. The least amount of chips any kid has ended up with is 4. One usual blurter said to everyone: “This [class done this way] is way better.” I’ve done more TCI/TPRS than I’ve been able to this year and for the first time in my 4-year teaching career, I enjoy every class I teach.
    I do hope I can phase this system out. The chips are already symbolic. There is nothing attached to them, except if you lose your 5 chips. I intend to eventually not even give out the chips, but go through the motions with “air chips” of giving and taking away – maybe that won’t work. We’ll see.
    Likewise, if teaching with CI makes you dread a class and there is a non-CI way to make it more enjoyable, then I support you.

    1. I agree, Eric. But notice John’s key words. In the short term. And it depends on the school culture. There are some people who need to be overpowered by our knowledge of grammar or culture, or of our first-hand experience in the country. They stand up. They respect us. And then they relax. Whatever we do after that…well, it is not because we are incompetent.

  8. I’m closer to Eric on this one, but sounds like a good time for us to compromise.
    So, what can we do to show students that 1) what they THINK is rigor doesn’t amount to much when it comes to acquiring a language, and 2) they are actually making significant gains?
    Is there a video of an A+ student who can’t communicate in a target language? Is there evidence that an amazing public speaker (in English) can’t pass an English grammar test? Could we design and administer an anonymous English grammar test for our faculty and share dismal results with students (not to denounce faculty, rather, show such knowledge is nice to know but largely unecessary?).

    1. Every time I glance at Lance’s avatar photo there I see Roman soldier trappings. Is it just me? It’s the red and gold if you don’t get too close. And then you understand the need for the armor when you read the content of many of his posts. It’s the Latin warriors again.

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