This last monday in celebration of Germany’s 20th Birthday I brought in various German treats from Aldi for all my classes: German chocolate, Werther’s original, etc. The next day one of my German 1 students who promptly returned to Aldi for a refill on the chocolate had a gift for me: a package of rye bread packed with sunflower seeds imported from Germany. In German, the stuff is called Roggenbrot.
So here I have a condundrum on my hands. On the one hand I have a free-will offering from a well-meaning beginning German student who wants me to share his blossoming joy in all things German. On the other hand I have a stack of Roggenbrot that I know that your average American teenager is going to take one bite of and run for the hills.
So, I wait for Friday when we have a bunch of stuff going on. I’m reading a story I wrote off the questionairre discussions based on their pets, and then casually offer the Roggenbrot with the stipulation that if you take a piece you have to eat it all. Most people jump on this, and I make big lip-smacking sounds. As expected, it doesn’t take long for most people to be asking for a drink of water, while I am playing up how much I love it and giving the verb “to like” the once-over in a real-life setting. I busted out my evil smile (and laugh) that Michele has been teaching me to refine, and we had instant buzz. The cool thing is there turned out to be about six students who decided they actually liked the stuff and stood up for it. The student who brought in the Roggenbrot is validated, and everything is cool.
But the real fun started in my next class of German 2s. I have about three students who I have been working with for weeks about not blurting long phrases out in English. I’ve tried the “emotional response” speech, I’ve tried pulling them aside, I’ve even written to all the parents involved. Nothing lasting; they just want to keep rolling in English. It’s what they do.
So I pull the same Roggenbrot routine on this class, smiling evilly the entire time and running “to like” into the ground. We have a great time, but as we start going forward my three blurters start rolling. Holding a plate full of Roggenbrot pieces in my hand leads me to a natural reaction: whoever speaks English gets another piece. And another. And another. Boy, did the class get into that. Who knew that “Rog-gen-brot! Rog-gen-brot!” makes such a great chant? One of my blurters got the hint, but what surprised me that my other two honestly were trying to stop themselves after awhile, but just couldn’t. They looked as surprised as anybody else as I layed a new piece of Roggenbrot on their desks.
Looking back afterwards, I was a bit surpised at my behavior. Normally I absolutely hate the singling out of students and “punishment” routine for English speaking; I’ve seen that get way out of hand and lead to a mob mentality, which is 180 degrees from where I want to be. I let it ride this time because it “felt right.” The tone was light and “in the moment” and especially because of how the blurters themselves were really into it and playing off of it as much as anybody. They were really surprised that they just had earned another piece and playfully took their earned lumps.
This showed me something I needed to be reminded of: I’m not dealing in this case with hardened recalcitrant rebels who actively work to foil me, but with still developing 10th graders who are still learning to discipline themselves and learning to self-interrupt. The real value of the Roggenbrot was not as a punishment, but as an accepted vehicle to interrupt incorrect behavior. I always have trouble making myself interrupt long English blurts because that is a social faux-pas. I train my own children not to interrupt, and have to force myself to do it. Today, however, the interruption was natural and playful; I think I’ll use a little buzzer or noisemaker in the near future to accomplish the same thing.
So, Adieu Roggenbrot. You work better as an extension of my evil smile than as any regular practice. You might still make another appearance come St. Nicholas day when I have everybody make “shoes” to be left out and filled with chocolate or coal the next morning, but that would be another post.