Hitting the Reset Button

One section of German I for me this year is just not clicking.  They show up to class, I don’t have a bunch of discipline problems (except for a couple blurters who are in rehab), but the class just isn’t giving me anything.  I’ll start PQA or a story and most people just won’t give me much more than the literal.  And forget standing up any actors; it’s just the usual suspects.  Overall I have about 5-6 kids who are all in, 3 or so that will be amused but run their own English agenda, and the majority who are sympathetic but won’t give me much unless really pressed.

I gave up  last week in the middle of a painfully boring discussion about what remedies people take for something that hurts and just said “This is boring.  Why are we even bothering?  What are we going to do about it?”  I took a quick survey (What am I doing well?: What do I need to improve?; I would be more involved if ____; I want to learn about ____), compiled the answers in PPT format, presented it to the class and noted that most people want others to get more involved (but won’t usually go out on a limb themselves).  I took some valid criticisms that I wasn’t involving enough people (because of previously being shut down I stopped going there) and that I wasn’t creating enough room for them to input (because they weren’t providing much, I filled the silence).

So, I’m hitting the reset button for them as much as for me. We’ve got the forms of a routine down, but not enough life to it.  We’re taking a break doing some projects (Google street view comparisons and cooking) as a way to vary the routine a bit and then are hitting it again as they get back from Thanksgiving.

I’ve just indexed a bunch of great Matava stories (and have just gotten Jim Tripp’s book as well), but I’m not sure that that’s where I need to entirely go.  I like the surveys we started the year on because it allowed people to get creative without being on the spot to do so, and it allowed me to strategically target people who hadn’t gotten enough reps in.  I feel that methodically we could plow into stories fine enough (the German ability is there, they follow my basic lead enough, etc.) but we need to work on the trust.  It’s been a while since the time has flown by for us.  We’re grinding it out rather than having fun getting to know each other.

As a result, I’ve generated some surveys to cover key words I want to target from my quarter II lists.  My students liked the surveys and kept saying they wanted to get back to “conversations.”  Well good, I can work with that and these surveys will give me some structure along those lines. I’m going with what they think works.

TARGET PHRASES: invites, happens, would like, may, watches
Who is coming to your thanksgiving dinner?
What “special dishes” will you cook for the meal? 
How do you cook them?
What do you do after the meal?

TARGET PHRASES: receives, buys, would like, something, simple, easy/hard
What do you want to get for Christmas?
Who buys this for you and where do they get it?
What gifts are you going to give this Christmas and where will you shop?

TARGET PHRASES: reads, writes, feels, only, something, simple, easy/hard
What do you  like to read? 
What book are you going to write?  
What will the front cover look like?
Where are you going to do your book signings/tour?

These surveys are sort of a combination PQA/Story script because there are a bunch of directions I can go off of them.  I can think of a few story ideas just by the questions (when Clay Matthews and Justin Bieber both want the last turkey drumstick, what happens?), but I’m determined to see what they are going to give me.

Each set of surveys by design will take a few days to get through, and I’ll rotate the target phrases for the day to line up with that day’s “conversation.”  On the Thanksgiving one, we spent today going through everybody’s guest lists for the meal and some things that might happen with the guests.  Tomorrow we’ll talk about cooking the meal, and I’m saving the “after meal” part for when they return from the break so we can compare notes retrospectively between what they said would happen and what “actually” happened.

Wish me luck!


10 responses to “Hitting the Reset Button

  1. Sheesh, Nathan, I know these people too! Is it the size of the class? Sometimes the energy is not there with 12-15 students. You wrote a great blog about a year ago on smaller classes. Michele posted it somewhere. I should print it out and read it often! It’s tough to have that heavy, grinding feeling. I just keep going back to Carol Gaab’s “The brain craves novelty” statement and wonder how that factors in with a steady stream of CI. Your idea of a break sounds good. I have to do more music too. The new “Twilight” movie got some lively interest from a young lady whose head is always out the window!


  2. No, unfortunately this is a group of 26 students who just can’t pull it together. Or at least couldn’t. I resolve to be relentlessly upbeat…and circle more. I’m just going to slow the pace, enjoy myself, draw pictures of what they’re telling me on the board so nobody has to stand up, laugh by myself if nobody will join me, try to figure out what’s cool about each person, and have fun. That, and circle more.

    Apparently things are getting through a bit. I started to show a song to my distance learning German I class that I had showed two days previously to my big class, only to be informed that some people had already seen the video posted on John’s (member of big class) Facebook page. Something stuck.


  3. Ok, I am with you too. I have one of those boring classes. And they even don’t want the circling either, English is so much better. Arrgggh!!!. They want to be entertained but don’t want to get into it. Some days it just has to go straight to reading; at least I can get some reps there:( All I can do is read the blogs, get some ideas, and keep plugging in. Thanks for sharing!


    • You know, I think that idea of “entertain me” is a big part of the problem. I’ve got some workers, but the silent majority is waiting for something to happen rather than make it happen. Bit of an entitlement issue. Hmmm.

      I’ve read–and agree with–that the best way to offset entitlement is to create ownership. Right now the class is “mine” and if it gets boring that’s on me. They’ve got to own it. Hmm.


      • By the way, how did you “send” those obnoxious English blurters in rehab?:) Mine are so reluctant to use the language but could go on forever on the story line in English… Any suggestions?


      • English blurter rehab: People who blurt are by definition lazy. I allow them to speak as much English as they want–if they are standing out in the hall. When I have to break down to English for an explanation or aside, I go stand in the doorway and point to my board using my laser pointer. So, I interrupt them early and point to the doorway if I feel an all-out blurt coming on. Most blurters choose not to go to the hall because they don’t want to get up and move. If they can’t be troubled to get up and move to the door to share their insight, I can’t be troubled to interrupt my class in its behalf.

        Second of all, I pull them aside after class and talk about how they are interrupting the learning for others. The first time is often enough, but if they show me a pattern of interruptions I spend my prep period (last period of day) writing a letter to their parents in which I detail the exact nature of the infraction, emphasizing its effect on other students, and trying to show that I recognize some effort on the offenders part. I have the students read the letter, mention I’m about to mail it and then ask them if there’s anything I missed. This usually leads to a pretty good discussion, and it works for me because I’m a lot more direct in print than I am in person.


  4. Nathan,
    I think it is helpful to share our challenges with each other. Everyone can relate. It actually makes me feel better because I always imagine that everything is perfect in everyone else’s classes!
    Just this week I have gotten, “We’re going too fast, I don’t understand anything” and “We’re going too slow, I already know this and it’s boring!” Yikes so many moody adolescents to please and so little of us to go around! I know I can always do better and more and change it up and all that jazz. I know I have been feeling it drag at times and I really have realized it might be the structures I chose (I need, I look for, I find) that may not have worked together to make for the most engaging story. Or maybe it’s just that everyone is tired and wants to sleep in and enjoy the 4 day holiday?! (A short coming I have is just going out there with the structures and no idea where they are going! I think this is where I need to work!)

    In my second year class this week we played a “game” where we all told a story about someone we had met in the past. (Working on past tense structures, I met, it was…where, when, with who, how, etc.with the class asking questions) Then we all had to guess whether or not it was true or false, the goal being to fool the class. They did pretty well but also groaned and said it was boring, (Really? I truly dislike that comment and they throw it out so easily).
    So anyway thanks for all your great ideas and organization. I am amazed and delighted by all the ideas you, Michele and others share here. This blog is my go to comfort spot everyday.
    Thanks! Oh, and thanks for letting us know we’re all still working on making this better all the time.


  5. Thanks so much for the reminder that the time of year is a factor, Ruth. They are a bit in a draggy patch, and it will be even worse two weeks from now.

    Often I’m also hung out to dry with my PQA or story and it just starts to wither as well. One thing this class told me in their surveys is that they want to see more pictures, so I think I’m going to steal a trick from MJ and when it starts to die (not if…when) sketch a picture on the board about what we were talking about and then work the reps. When they complain how bad my drawing is, challenge several to do better in two minutes (any longer and we’ll get the perfectionists) and we’ll go for the reps by comparing sketches. We’ll then take one of them and circle it like a one-word image.. I know that I have gotten too hung up on plot (where does this go next) and don’t yet have enough investment in the characters marching through the plot. Did I mention that I stink at circling? I need to force myself to get good at that.

    Thanks for the pep talk–I think we’re all needing it right now.


    • Last time Carol met with our group, she said that she doesn’t really like the focus on circling because things can get boring. And then I remember that Susie always tells new groups that circling is only for practicing the technique, and that we shouldn’t be doing strict circling all the time. I am now reminding myself of these “circling points,” not telling you, because I am totally guilty of getting into a circling rut…it gets more pronounced the more desperate I feel at any given moment. Circling is for brand new structures, to begin with. And we need to interrupt that circling after every couple questions by searching for a detail. I did this by mistake yesterday with the bear story. Some kids wanted to work in Santa, who was going to be eaten by the bear as quickly as they could manage it (and these are kids you’d least expect it from…the new word everyone in that class learned yesterday was “bloodthirsty”). So when I asked why the bear grew a lot in the winter, they answered first that it was because of Santa. Then, I managed to hold onto the phrase “he grew/was growing” for a long time. Of course, I didn’t manage to repeat much or get solidification on “ate.” This class hasn’t been into about any circling for a while, so it was quite a relief!

      I can reproduce our conversation because I just watched the video. It went like this:
      Me – Why did the bear grow fast in the winter? (I was hoping they’d use the phrase “he was sleeping.”)
      Kid – He grew fast because Santa.
      Me – How is it that the bear grew fast because of Santa?
      Kid – Santa is magical.
      Me – The bear grew fast because Santa is magical?
      Kids – Yes!
      Kid – No! The bear grew fast because the bear was eating Santa!
      Me – (Totally surprised by the comment from a heart-faced child) I thought the bear was sleeping in the winter! He grew fast because he ate Santa?
      Kid – Yes! Santa is magical.
      Me – So…the bear ate Santa or Santa ate the bear?
      (Some kids: – Santa ate the bear!)
      Others – The bear was eating Santa.
      Me – The bear ate Santa?? (Trying to get the right verb form out there.)
      Kids – (roaring) Yes!
      Me – Oh…when the bear ate Santa, Santa gave the bear his magic?
      Kid – No! The bear was eating Santa. He was magical.
      Me – When the bear ate Santa, he grew because Santa was magical?
      Kids – Yes.
      Me – So did the bear grow a lot in the summer too?
      Kids – No!
      Other kids – Yes! In the summer he was eating children.
      Me – He was growing in the summer or he wasn’t growing in the summer?
      Kids – He wasn’t growing in the summer!
      Me – Why didn’t the bear grow a lot in the summer?
      Kids – Santa isn’t magical in the summer.

      They came out of their shells to talk about this. Unfortunately “growing” was one of the words on the board, but not one of my intended focus words. Oh well. It’s a lesson for me about going with the kids.

      And . . . another lesson…when there’s a “was eating/ate” difference, I need to put them both on the board to slow me down and give at least some of them the clue. I could have even done a pop-up. Maybe they just aren’t ready for perfective/imperfective forms in this group.

      Whew! Long interruption of a great conversation…thanks, all. And, if I forget to mention it, Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the chance to connect with you all.


  6. Of course we are all needing a pep talk and so are the kids. It is the SOCIAL time of the year for all of us humans before we go hibernate for winter. So, the world outside our classroom doors is ever so much more interesting at the moment.

    Nathan your students got a lot out of that session last week. The got the part where their opinions count. That you are willing to work with them. But, that entitlement piece and their wanting others to jump up and act instead of themselves sounds to me like they forgot their part of the classroom bargain. They have to do their 50%. Why not select an artist to draw the story instead of you having to do it. You know there are better artists in the class than you (even though you may be a professional). Add some noise makers–the knock on the door–the ring of the oven timer–jobs that require them to be a part of the class listening and participating.
    Don’t let the boring fall on your shoulders. Kids have always complained that learning was boring. Bring them in to do their 50%. Today with all the whiz bang of technology, kids are used to be entertained. They are used to being a passive audience. Take them back to the days when storytelling had active listerners who participated in the story providing sounds, asking questions, and understood their roles.
    You are one of the most impressive innovators in a classroom that I’ve read. Take joy in the fact that all your classes aren’t recieving you like this one does and push forward with their suggestions. Until Jan. we can only hang on to the ride of the SOCIAL time of the year and capitalize on their interests in that.


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