What To Do?

I got this from Skip today. It’s a good question and I’ll bet he’s not the only one thinking about this:
Hi Ben,
I have been really focusing on SLOW this year. I have REALLY gone slow with my Spanish 1 classes. I have intentionally done all of the things that Linda Li and Bryce presented in their workshop at NTPRS.   This group  has NO previous experience with Spanish and I am absolutely committed to leaving nobody behind….
The problem is that I have 2-3 students who have not acquired anything…. I ask them the structures that I have been circling for days and they look at me like I am speaking Chinese.
I ran the name of one of the students by the Special Ed coordinator and she said that the student can’t read and they are moving the student from my class. She indicated that he will NOT be able to succeed in my class.
I have not read a lot about this topic on moreTPRS or on your blog. I know we say that ALL students can succeed.  Do we really believe that?  I am very discouraged.  The VAST majority is bored stiff and are more than ready to move on. They are excelling. But these 2-3 students (out of 46 students) appear to have never been in my class.
I would love to hear the experiences of others. Might I be doing something wrong?
Thanks Ben,
My response: I really do believe that anyone can learn a language. If they want to. That’s a big “if”. I feel that there is an emotional tie-in at work here. Look at how these two kids are controlling the class! Everybody has to stay back with them and that is a cool feeling of power, I bet. That’s just my hunch. It’s a power trip on you. I say flunk ’em and flunk ’em fast. Give them their zeroes, make the necessary contacts with parents and counselors. I know you guys just started in Maine so you still have time. Bottom line before you do that? Ask them privately if they want to continue even though they aren’t getting it. Look directly in their eyes so they can’t lie. If they DO want to continue on, for real (very little chance of that in my mind) then work out a contract with them and grade them in a different way. If they don’t (I think that they don’t want to be there), then move ’em out. Protect those other kids who want to learn, at all costs. But that’s just my opinion. Other ideas?



23 thoughts on “What To Do?”

  1. I agree with Ben, Skip. I’ve had kids who basically couldn’t read be successful in my class, it has to do with motivation. It also has to do with their ability to sustain attention. There are a few who just can’t. I would handle it exactly as Ben described, and don’t feel guilty. Some of my happiest students have had learning disabilities and remedial instead of regular English. You might want to call the parents as well. I’ve actually had parents say, “You mean he’s taking foreign language? Who signed him up for that? The kid can’t read in his own language!” and pulled the kid out of my class post-haste. Hard to imagine, but true.

  2. Ben’s the man. He nailed it on the head. They can acquire the language, but they might be lower processors and would need more repetition, time and TPR. But this is only if they want to do it. We can’t force kids to learn a language. Only do all we can to ensure a compelling, comprehensible rich environment. This will get the language to the language acquisition device and then…touchdown, baby! It’s in there for the long haul.
    When I first started going slow my classes were really bored, too. I saw yawns and students would say things like, “Are we going to do this every day?” Then I found my rhythm to make it compelling. I found out that kids love random things and I play it up. Get them laughing and they will acquire the language. But you have to be all in, too. They have to see that there is no more important place for you than right there in that room playing with them. You still have discipline, but just have fun playing with them. A key to this is to look at their questionnaires, so you have an idea of which things to pull in.
    Sooner or later, though, you’ll have to find your individual compelling rhythm. It’s just something that takes time. The quickest way to find it is to just play with them. Jason Fritze once said that all teachers should have training in acting and theater. It think this is true because it allows you to learn the skills for helping your students be the stars of the class. When they are the stars in class, they will love every moment because it revolves around them.

  3. With all due respect to Jason, he is a god who literally personifies comprehensible input, I don’t agree that we need to be trained in theatre. What pressure to put on people who may not have a histrionic bone in their body. The process of TPRS is going to have as many personalities as there are people doing it. Some are laid back, some intense, some still have fear in their bodies (I still do, but it’s going away fast lately), and we will all have different levels of acting talent. I am convinced that we all can do it without being actors. We just have to practice it. We can do anything if we practice it enough. Kind of like learning a language!

  4. I, too, struggle with a student who always puts up a 5 or less during comprehension checks, as if she doesn’t want to understand. She talks about her old teacher whom she liked because they played games on the computer, learned colors, etc. I wonder sometimes if I should do a mix of CI and other activities, just to keep certain students’ attention. I also wonder about the use of projects. Many of my students LOVE doing projects, but I’m learning that there isn’t much language learning in them…but this might be ok because my purpose might just be something else. Any comments about project/computer work would be appreciated!

    1. Projects have no value. Computer work, with some exceptions, has little, if any, value. We know this. It is a fact. The thing that gripes me in the above is the fact that the child you mentioned thinks that she can say those things. Don’t allow it. Talk to the parents, explain what you do and how it aligns with the national proficiency indicators and most state standards. Ask the kid to leave if they are going to say anything about how wonderful their old teacher is when they can’t really know. That is just rude.

      1. My students in German 4 are asking for games and projects. They have been doing TPRS with me for 3 years and are getting tired of my way of doing things. They want to play basketball and watch movies. Today I let them make a little book and illustrate it based on a song from youtube and it felt like a wasted class period to me. That’s how I feel about games and projects. It takes an hour to do a few sentences, whereas usually, we would have hundreds of German sentences. I want to know a trick that makes doing what we always do: circling and PQA and acting and reading seem different.

    2. Annemarie,
      I have to do projects (I compromise and do them 2 days out of the week instead of 5) because it is part of our New Tech school. However, I flat out tell my students that they are not acquiring language through doing projects; that they’ll acquire language by listening/responding to me and by reading. Yes, they like doing projects because they can chat together and look up cool pictures online to add to their presentations. Group projects teach other skills (our learning outcomes–such as collaboration, work ethic, use of technology, and critical thinking) but they don’t teach how to acquire languages. And time is precious.
      However, there are CI projects that work OK. In our project right now, my sophomores are teaching TPR gestures to small groups of 5th/ 6th graders. They really enjoyed doing that–also taught a simple song to the younger kids. I have a plan for a future project where they make a music video and one where they act out a fairy tale in simplified Spanish. So projects can be useful if you choose carefully.

      1. I like this idea of older students teaching younger students. One of my 8th grade classes has wanted to get all of my 6 classes together ( 120+ students) and do a massive story! Yikes.
        I work at an Expeditionary Learning school (used to be Expeditionary Learning Outward Boung-ELOB) so students expect hands-on learning or projects. We do a three month long project in my 8th grade Spanish classes in which students research an Hispanic artist and create their own piece of art based on the artist’s work and their own creativity. It’s actually an awesome project, but it’s 3 months less of CI.
        Last year the students in my 6th and 7th grade classes each picked out a freewrite and illustrated it. I took all the freewrites and had them bound into a book. Now students can read this freewrite collection during our quiet reading time and they love it.

          1. It’s the one time I give feedback on their freewrites in terms and grammar and spelling, just so they are correct for all to see. They have to keep them simple so that even their own classmates understand!

  5. I don’t think Jason was saying that we all need to be like him. We don’t need to be histrionic. We are helping the students to be the actors. The training in theatre helps us to learn about helping the students to create meaningful moments. We are the directors that help them to do that. Not all directors are the same. They each have their personalities, acting talent and own way of relating a moment to the actors.
    Albert Cullum, a master teacher from the 50s to 60s, once said, “The teacher doesn’t always need to play the main role. Often it is better if we are the facilitator or have a supporting role.” He also says that, “The most essential quality is a sense of humor.” He wrote a book called Push Back the Desks that describes some of the things he did at a time when education was quite dull and formal. Federico Garcia Lorca wrote in “The Ballad of the Little Square,”
    I will go very far,
    farther than those hills,
    farther than the seas,
    close to the stars,
    to beg Christ the Lord
    to give back the soul I had
    of old, when I was a child,
    ripened with legends,
    with a feathered cap
    and a wooden sword.
    As teachers we should be constantly searching for our lost feathered caps and our lost wooden swords. We have to step out of the adult world and guide the students in their discovery. A foundation in theatre will not hinder, but only give us more tools to help alieviate the pressure of inexperience and personal inhibitions. It will help the students aspire to greatness.

  6. Hi Annemarie! For some students, they may be putting up a 5 because they are slow processors of language and it is still early in the year. I have had students put up a 5 in the beginning of the year and then they adjust after a few months. They may just need a little more time to get used to the language. Of course it’s possible that they are just not paying attention, too. Only you can tell the difference.
    A TPR phase in the beginning helps my students to avoid this gap because they get a lot of varied repetition in a fun way. In fact, a lot of times TPR turns into a mini story. Then when we start stories, they have increased their processing speed by a lot, while having quite a bit of fun.
    I think that students often like learning activities, like colors or computer games, because it is tangible. They can visually see their learning or experience it with a game. Ben used to have or still may have a basketball game that uses the words the students are working on and turns it into a game. His students loved it! He made it pretty fun, too. Attaching games to the acquisition fulfills that tangible learning need.
    The problem with projects is that they are output oriented, which is a challenge for Level 1 students. I try to have my students complete projects that will positively help future generations. Such as a mini book that I will print out and students next semester or year will be able to read their book during FVR time. But if we get carried away with projects the students will miss out on acquisition time.
    It’s good to mix it up. In fact, some brain research indicates that we need to change the activity every 15 minutes or so. I try to vary my CI activities every day to mix it up. That way I am changing it up and the students are getting varied repetition.

    1. Doing TPR is a great reminder. This student I received in the middle of last year-her 7th grade year- and she’s got some serious mental health issues. She loves to draw, but I don’t want her doodling during CI. So perhaps returning to some TPR would engage her-thanks.

        1. Yes, she’s quite good at drawing. Perhaps I will ask her-although her drawings are quite provocative. She’s VERY quiet and I kind of don’t want to put her on the spot, but maybe this is the little push she needs.

          1. I don’t think you have to put her on the spot. I’d just ask her in private. “Hey, I noticed you’re a really good artist. Would you mind…..?”

  7. I think it’s important to keep in mind the distinction:
    Every student can learn/acquire a foreign language, but not every student will learn a foreign language.
    There are a lot of reasons for that, many of which have already been mentioned.
    I have a student this year with ADHD. She is by no means the first ADHD student I have had, but her mother is very aggressive about what she thinks should be going on in the classroom. This year I got rid of all desks and have only chairs in the classroom. (I like it for a number of reasons. Today in a couple of large classes (35+) I was able to shove the extra chairs to the side and get all students into a circle of chairs to just sit and talk. I would never have come close to doing that with desks.) Mom has not only e-mailed me but also talked to the counselor about this because she is certain that her daughter absolutely must have a desk on which to write and maintains that said daughter is sure she will fail German if she can’t write throughout the class period. So far the daughter has given no indication of this in class and, in fact, can tell me what was just said when I ask. Nonetheless, because the student has a 504 I’m sure that I will be making accommodations. The counselor said the mother will probably ask for a meeting to write a desk into the plan. At some point I plan to ask mom how much writing daughter did when she learned English – I just have to be sure I do it at the right time and in the right way.
    For those of you who pray, ask that I may be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove.

    1. Ohh, the beloved 504 plan. Not to sound too politically incorrect, but I sometimes wonder if all of the education laws pertaining to Special Education have “ruined” education to a degree. There are waaaayyy too many parents who are “enablers” and have no faith in their own children’s abilities and capabilities because they hide behind the 504 or IEP.

    2. AH! I love this idea of getting rid of the desks! Both my 7th grade classes are too big for the classroom (25 kids in each and squished together at these little tables meant for little 6th graders.) However, I don’t have my own classroom (anyone else out there without classroom?), I travel to 3 different ones. It’s just that it takes time to come into a room that’s not mine, have kids move all the desks back and then put them back at the end of the 40 minutes. I think I’m going to have to just deal with it!

  8. If you think about it, Le Chevalier de l’Ouest couldn’t possibly allow desks his classroom. Where would his horse go?
    As crazy as this may seem, years ago I had a dream of Susan Gross teaching in my classroom while riding a horse that was so big her head went into and through the paneled ceiling.
    We’re all Riders of the Sage.

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