Us against the game

Last week in Wisconsin was a three-day week to allow for a teacher’s convention and I spent a lot of the time just thinking about how things were going, and what tweaks I could make to move it in a better direction.  My students by and large are at the point that they are comfortable enough with understanding German that overconfidence is more of a problem for me than lack of confidence.  I’ve got my share of English blurters who simply don’t recognize how much English they’re speaking because the understanding is coming so unconsciously, they aren’t tracking their output either.  I’m not detecting any rebellion in all the English coming my way, but simply the “logical” move towards the path of least resistance.

So the first thing I did on Monday was open up all my classes with a basic question “Who likes to play Tennis or Volleyball?”  I got a pretty good number of hands and then shared that these were great sports, but wouldn’t they be better if only they got rid of that darn net.  Wouldn’t it be great just hitting that tennis ball as hard as you could without the bother of the net.  The volleyball net could also move down to a hip level so that we could just bang it back and forth without so much nuisance.  While we were at it, those darn out of bounds lines were kind of inconvenient as well.

After stringing that along for awhile I noted that it is difficult to work with nets and lines in these sports, but those boundaries are what makes the sport a sport in the first place.  We’re really great at this point hitting our conversational German ball back and forth in class, but the point is to learn to play on a regulation court.  If we lowered the basketball standards to 5 feet then everybody could dunk, but who wants to develop their jumpshot on such a rim?  The point of German class is not to get a grade or pass a class, but to be able to learn how to hear and speak and breathe the language in the same way that people all around the world do. In order to play the real game, then, we need speak the language and not be content with just hearing it.

At that point I implemented a suggestion I heard about from Diane on Ben’s blog that has been working wonderfully.  I’ll quote it verbatim because it was so well expressed:

This year, at a new school, I had a hard time at first with the kids speaking English. Finally I read about a simple but effective means to help. If a student blurts out in English, (or chats, or fools around), I simply point to the door in a casual, non-accusatory way. I explained to them when I started to do this that if I point to the door, they are to get up, walk to the door and touch it, take a deep breath, collect themselves, get back into “Spanish mode,” and return to their seat ready to work. The intent and understanding is that this is not a punishment, but instead a gentle reminder to get back with us. So far it’s working great, and doesn’t interrupt the flow of what I’m doing with the rest of the class because I don’t have to pause or speak.

I’m going to throw my lot in with Diane and note that this works very well.  I love how this is most effective when I don’t make a big deal about it, but keep on teaching while the kid trudges to the door.  And if a kid has to do this more than once a class period, that’s enough for me to establish a pattern in the student’s mind that there might be a problem going on, and I have a quick chat with him/her after class.

What has surprised me a bit is the degree to which my classes have taken ownership of this.  My classes across the board are running more smoothly. One class of German ones will not speak English; if somebody blurts they default into a “how do you say” for a key word and move on.  Some other classes are more ragged, but even those kids are owning their blurts and working with me on fixing the problem.  We’re moving towards a place where it’s not my standards versus their habits, but it’s coaching and practicing our serves / jumpshots / forehands to a point where it’s us against the game.  And we’re going to win.

5 responses to “Us against the game

  1. I got so tired of English blurting that I started a points system. Students start each day with a certain number of points for staying in Spanish, not interrupting, being respectful, and being on time. They lose points for breaking rules, but they can also earn points for adding great details or having a good discussion. When they get to 200 points, they will earn a fun movie or food day.

    (I totally stole this idea from some brilliant TPRS teacher who posted a .pdf of her system; however, I cannot for the life of me remember where it came from.)

    It has done wonders for the English blurting, although not everything is perfect.


  2. Erin, do you have specific details about how many points are given for each day, as well as how many for each reward/infraction? This type of logic works pretty good in the middle school especially. I could come up with some numbers, but no sense reinventing the wheel.


  3. I’m still wrestling with two kids in one class. In the rest of the groups, I’ve pretty much used the evil Laurie-inspired smile and that does fine. In another class, I added this trip to the door to my set of tools, and at least for today, it worked.

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    It’s amazing how much it helps both to hear how others deal with these issues as well as to hear that other people have issues too.


  4. Nathan– I start out with 2 points for being on time and prepared, 4 points each for: no interruptions, being respectful, and speaking only Spanish. Depending on how good your students are, you might want to start out with higher/lower numbers.

    They earn points (usually 1 or 2) for: adding good details, good actors, responding to all questions, volunteering for reading translations, good discussions, and 90% of the class earning 90% or higher on assessments. These all have cute little names (Discuss in Depth, Revel in Reading, etc.)

    I wrote the rules in Sharpie on a small white board, and there are boxes for each class’s points and totals. It’s also a good review of numbers to have them count and add their points for the day, when I can remember to leave enough time at the end of class!

    MJ– Your blog is a recent discovery for me, and it has been so helpful to see what other TPRS teachers are doing! I’m the only foreign language teacher at my school, so I really depend on the support and ideas I get from my virtual colleagues. Thanks for all you do!


  5. Thanks so much Erin. It’s nice to draft off of somebody else’s thought process.


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