Jennifer wrote this:
I had some truly amazing students last year. Amazing intellect, amazing creativity, amazing personality. Truly, I was blessed as a teacher to have some of these kids. One boy borrowed a grammar workbook to study at home. He came back to me a few weeks later to report that “I’m not quite sure I understand the subjunctive.” This was in the 8th grade. As far as our stories went… out of this world.
I have moved on to another school, and so have they. And, I am seeing what they are saying about Spanish. Oddly, they post about Spanish frequently on Facebook. Sometimes, they quote random lyrics or story lines from our classes last year. More often I see complaints about how boring and endless the verb conjugations are, powerpoint vocabulary lists that never end, worksheet after worksheet on topics they already understand, and homework.
These brilliant kids who could write novelettes in Spanish with minimal errors last year, who voraciously read through three Blaine Ray novels and Mira’s Piratas, are now defeated by the monstrous verb conjugation task at hand. They report that they are only now beginning to understand the preterit (although they were successfully using the preterit and imperfect in class last year) and they are feeling dumb that it is taking them so long. Two of them discussed their recent mid-term exams and how they spent so much effort trying to remember the rules for i->y and “basement verbs” that they were unable to answer a simple question “How do you say ‘they are singers?'”
And, oddly given all the complaints I got last year about how “boring” the Ana books were… they are begging to read “Real Books” like Pobre Ana again.
At first, reading through this recent discussion of theirs I too felt crushed. I didn’t prepare them properly for high school. I should have taken the time to explain the grammar… Then I felt angry. Who are these teachers who crush these absolutely brilliant kids? Why must we take these confident children who can speak and communicate in Spanish and force them to pay attention to such minutiae as whether or not they spelled a word correctly with an i or a y and thus convince them that they have not learned what they thought they had, and that they are not good at it. And then I felt pride too. Here they are, a year later (some more than a year later) posting to each other from multiple high schools, IN SPANISH, talking about Spanish, remembering our stories, reading Ana…
The Problem with CI
Jeffrey Sachs was asked what the difference between people in Norway and in the U.S. was. He responded that people in Norway are happy and
6 thoughts on “Why Indeed?”
Jennifer you rock.
Thanks, Ben. Personally, I think *you* rock. 🙂
I had another sad “epiphany” yesterday. I was sitting at my desk sorting through student profiles during my planning period. New semester, new students, new profiles. Anyway… I overheard a teacher berating a student in the hallway. Curious, I glanced up.
And there was one of my first semester kids. Now, she’s not a stellar student. She skips school a lot. She gets in trouble. She’s been suspended a few times. She smokes. She’s depressed. She doesn’t do much homework. She doodles all over herself… But, she’s this beautiful person. You know? I can see this wonderful person sitting just inside, waiting to come out. She’s amazingly creative. And smart. And witty. And when she smiles, her whole face lights up.
(I’m an awful teacher, because I don’t assign the mandatory detentions for tardies. I talk with the kids instead. And oddly, the tardies often decrease. I also don’t give lots of homework. And that is putting me on the outs with the whole department. My colleagues have all reacted to this blizzard we’re under by assigning entire chapters of homework – of course, I should too, because the pacing guide doesn’t change even if we’re not in school… but back to my train of thought. I also don’t make the kids memorize information in charts.)
Those three “faults” of mine as a teacher were ideal for this girl. I never nagged her for her absences or her tardies. I praised her for what she was able to do right and well. She was the star of some of our stories. She didn’t have lots of homework to not do and thus dig herself into an F she couldn’t dig out of. And, she didn’t have to try to force her extremely right brain into a left brained chart.
There she was, in the hallway, being berated by this colleague of mine. Who was telling her that perhaps a foreign language is not for her. If she isn’t going to try, if she won’t study and do the homework, then she should go to her counselor and withdraw because an F looks so awful on a transcript.
And just like I was thinking the other day when I emailed you about my former students on Facebook… a part of my just wanted to curl up and die when I overheard this conversation. Because, obviously, this child is struggling with something much bigger than a grade in her Spanish class. And really, how can humiliating her make anything better? Does telling people how stupid and lazy they are really make them try harder? Or does it just force them further inside to where another little part of them dies and they stop trying even the little bit they were trying?
I only had this girl for one semester. And she certainly was no superstar. She is a slow processor by anyone’s standards, but that’s mostly because of her spotty attendance. But, in the few months she was in my room, I did see her come out of her shell a little bit. And now, I think, she’s going to go right back in. And as soon as she passes this semester (required for her diploma) she’s never going to look at Spanish again until one day, she sits on a plane next to a Spanish teacher, and says, “Oh, I studied Spanish for two years in high school. Never did learn anything though.”
That was probably way more blathering than anybody needed on a Saturday morning. But, I’m really into this whole treating our students as human beings and honoring them as the humans they are thing right now. Humiliating them into being docile robots is not my thing.
O.K. this just pisses me off. I don’ t know how you could watch that. I would have walked over and asked if there was a problem and asked to speak privately to the teacher. You know, this happens maybe thousands of times a day in the U.S. – at least hundreds when you consider how many kids study languages in our country. This is no casual event. We ALL have those kinds of kids. ALL OF US who do input based methods know that those kinds of kids are attracted via our silly stories deeper into the forest of real acquisition. What the hell is this site for? Why am I still teaching at my age? This event nauseates me. The kids who write on themselves, this one whom you describe so poetically above, these pure and lovely souls in strange looking cages, they are the heart and soul of TPRS. The others will do well in any setting. Those high achieving kids have for decades kept afloat the turd teachers, those who float in the toilet of grammar translation and book based instruction. This rejection of this kid, this flushing of this kid, makes me, quite frankly, irate. Flush the teacher, not the kid. And the fact that you had to hear that kid get flushed, and stay quiet because you are young and new to that district and your colleagues in that building just plain don’t understand what you are doing with your students (turds don’t see well), just makes me all the more determined to get better at this against all odds and mid-winter frustrations. Against all turds, I should say. Shit.
Ultimately this conversation had nothing to do with teaching methodology. It had everything to do with recognizing the humanity of the student – or in this case the failure to recognize that humanity. While we sometimes target “grammar teachers” in general for comments, there are many out there who teach as they do because they believe that is the best way to learn a foreign language. (Parenthetically, they are the ones who will adopt Comprehensible Input when they see what it does.) At the same time they care about their students and will find ways to help them succeed even at this horribly stultifying endeavor. This teacher is not one of them. To this teacher that student was simply another of the interchangeable parts that pass through her room each year – and a substandard one at that. How sad. How unacceptable.
[rambling rant mode on]
Friday I had breakfast with a group of current and former teachers at my school. During the conversation the topic turned to standardized testing and the increasing “standardization” of instruction throughout the US because of the trend to tie all things (student “success”, teacher pay, school accountability) to student performance on a single, standardized test each year. I am philosophically and ethically opposed to this because of its basic assumptions. On the one hand I am all for standardization of things like light bulb fixtures, because if a bulb burns out or something breaks I have an interchangeable part for a replacement. People are not interchangeable parts, and standardized testing as practiced in most places removes the human element from the equation. One of my colleagues even said that some State Superintendent of Education dreams of the day when a person could go into any classroom in the state and hear precisely the same lesson as in every other classroom of that subject on that day.
Shades of Camazotz!
One of the emphases at my school this year is IEPs and 504s (documents that spell out ways in which certain students’ needs are to be accommodated in the classroom). Some of our teachers react to the point of anger at the idea of adapting their classroom instruction and procedures to meet these needs. Fortunately, they 1) are in the minority and 2) have no legal standing because both documents are legally binding. Earlier this school year I posted about the issue I was having with one special education student in German 2. For some reason he was just not able to show what he knows on various quizzes, so I simply discounted the writing portion of his exam. I felt guilty about this until I read his IEP and saw that this was precisely one of his accommodations. For the final last week students drew a picture of their (dream) house, labeled parts of it, put in graphics of activities and then talked about their house, family (real or imagined) and themselves. This particular student had a beautifully crafted paper, and his performance during our Conversation Carousel was up to expected standards. Afterwards I talked to him about how he did. We have a meeting this week, and I said, “We just need to find a way the lets you show what’s in there. Think about it, and we can put it down at the meeting.” Would a no-exceptions commitment to standardized testing and instruction have allowed this? I think not. The educational system in this country has a split personality. On the one hand, we teachers are ordered to “differentiate instruction”, but on the other hand entire school districts are moving toward scripted teaching, which removes all differentiation.
Several years ago when I was teaching Spanish, before I had even heard about TPRS, I had the son of one of our secretaries in my class. He was ADHD and had an IEP. His math teacher at the time refused to consider accommodations. I had no trouble at all with the accommodations and even made a few that weren’t on the IEP (e.g. sit in back rather than front and get up and move whenever you need to as long as you don’t bother someone else). To this day (at least 10 years later), the secretary still talks about how I “got [her] son” through Spanish. This isn’t to toot my own horn, just to show that it’s all about seeing students as individuals, not some part of a group to which we deliver instructional services.
The analogy I use – and I apologize if it doesn’t seem entirely PC – is to a physical disability. We would be horrified at the following scenario: A classroom is in a building set above the ground and has stairs. A student is in a wheelchair and cannot navigate the stairs. The teacher says, “Tough luck. If the student can’t get to my classroom on his own, then he doesn’t deserve to take my class. Maybe Foreign Language/Math/Science/English just isn’t for him.” What utter hogwash. But that thinking is often accepted when it comes to academics. “If he doesn’t get the concept after I’ve explained it once, maybe he shouldn’t be taking [whatever subject]”. Accommodations for special education students are simply 1) good teaching practices anyway and 2) the ramps they need to negotiate the stairs. We only have issues because the disability isn’t visible.
[/rambling rant mode off]
The teacher that Profe Loca heard has obviously fallen under the influence of “The Black Thing” and also needs rescuing. Unfortunately, like most of the inhabitants of Camazotz, she probably doesn’t recognize that she even needs rescuing.
(For anyone who might need the help, the references to “The Black Thing” and Camazotz come from Madeleine L’Engles’s book A Wrinkle in Time. I recommend it highly.)
I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.
Just thought I would share my stroke of “brilliance.” I was going through my student interest inventories, sorting out my current students from those who have switched teachers, adding in my new students, etc.
I noticed that the student who was pulled out in the hall shares the same favorite musician with the teacher. So, in a totally non-confrontational way, I mentioned this fact to the teacher. And, since we were being completely non-confrontational and dicussing things like music, not classroom discipline, I snuck in that I thought this child has some rough things going on in her life.
She smiled, and said she would mention to this girl that she also likes this group. (The Beatles, btw).
Profesora…..eres un regalito para todo el mundo. :o)