Today I played Deb Abshier’s game (thanks, Martina) and enjoyed my kids a lot more. I hope they had a good time.

I’ve been reading Daniel Coyle and considering his theories about learning in high-focus chunks again. There are some kids who are clearly playing the TPRS game during class and working on their Russian outside class in a way that benefits them, but not everyone really wants to be here every day. I wish I could get the kids who don’t want to be here to view this as their chance to find out what they could really learn if they followed class procedures and joined the rest with an open heart. They’re learning. They’re acquiring language. It’s just way slower than it might be. It’s like they have a learning disability. Their attitude of education-rejection interferes with their ability to process. I keep trying to get them on board. Maybe by pulling them along, we’ll get them up for a moment and they’ll realize that it’s easier to sail with us.


11 responses to “Friday

  1. Michele,
    I’m so glad you posted this! I have been struggling with buy-in and management this week and wanted to post a question somewhere. We always feel that we are the only ones who are having a problem and that everyone else has perfect students (like the kids in the DPS videos!).

    We all know the kids you are talking about. For me the struggle is negativity and what feels like a gang (us against her) mentality. I don’t know how it happened. It is only one of my classes, the others get it and are having fun. Of course there are a couple of kids in each class who either don’t listen, talk to each other or who are actually unable to grasp things. It have not experienced a problem of this degree for some time.

    I try everyday to reach them. I greet them and talk to them about their lives. I remind them often about why we are doing what we do and about how it works. We get into a story and where another class would take off with it and have fun, they just seem to have a negative and unengaged attitude. The stories, for the most part, don’t fly. One sassy young lady will complain loudly about things like “God, this is a warm-up why is it taking so long? (when we are reviewing) or We already know this!” (about a detail that I am circling in a story). She has a posse and they are in the habit of chiming in to anything negative or just talking to each other loudly or smirking. I have actually seen some of them work together to try and cheat on tests. This feels so bad. It’s not everyone and it’s not all the time. I find myself thinking nasty and negative thoughts like “Well, maybe they will get it next year when they move on to a book work and work sheet teacher!” I also find myself thinking that I am about to give up and just do book work and work sheets like the other three teachers at our school.

    I know this is not helpful to you or anyone in our “family” of CI educators but I needed to vent. I want to heal this and have a better and more successful time for the rest of the year. Some things I think have contributed to this situation. This is my largest class. I won’t mention numbers since I bet many have bigger classes but in my room we only have so many seats so it is tight, late in the day and they tend to be loud and wound up. The students are for the most part young and new to the hight school which is a 10-12 school. This is my only Spanish class this year and there are a bunch of students who have had Spanish before and should be in a more advanced class, so they are bored. At the beginning of the year I work hard to get them placed correctly but they fight it. They think they will have an easy A and will in fact lie to stay where they think they want to be. Last but not least, negativity once started seems to be hard to fight.

    If anyone has any thoughts that might help me avoid turning to the book, I thank you from the bottom of my heart! I feel a bit of dread everyday before 5th period. I take it home with me. I am trying to learn to let things go but the negative gets to me.

    I love what we do and have a lot of joy in my other classes so all is not lost! I love and appreciate you guys so thanks for letting me vent!


  2. So hard to have that. I’m glad that we can share…I have a couple of ideas (but you know I’m really talking to myself here about how to combat similar problems!)

    When kids are recalcitrant, sometimes I go to the “15 ways to use a story” on the MJ TPRS collection page (sidebar). I do a lot more TPR at odd points in the classroom. I make them act out stories in small groups in complete silence. I ask the advanced ones to do retells from perspective frequently. Instead of letting them shout out answers, I ask them to hold up their ideas on notebook pages where I can see them.

    When we do dictations, I ask those more advanced kids to write what I say and then also write in a different perspective.

    Somehow, even though it’s still not structured in the way that old textbook classes were, it gives me the structure to make it feel more controlled.

    For a whole week with one class recently, I asked them what they’re grateful for as we started each class. They could write down one joke, but had to put down one thing that was real. They couldn’t do put-downs, like “I’m grateful this class is only one hour.” I actually told them that my attittude was bad about coming to this class, and that I knew I could change my attitude, especially when it is bad about kids I love.

    I wrote mine on the board for all to see. Every day I tried to pick a different problem kid, “I’m grateful for Jeff’s smile.” “I’m grateful for Shana’s sense of humor.” Then I would write something from my own life, but not too personal, like, “I’m glad I have a bike and the health to ride it every day.”

    I didn’t read them all, but that really helped our atmosphere in the beginning of the day. And, come to think of it, that group has really improved…or maybe my attitude has.

    I should try it with my difficult group!

    As Nathan has reminded me, it is that spring-fever time of year. Here we’re up to nearly 12 hours of daylight again. As that time difference tips, the entire school starts to get crazy.

    Glad that I’m not the only one out there!! Hang on. Things will change.


  3. Oh, the negativity… I’m so glad I don’t see much this year in my new school. Yes, I have a crazy 7th hour I-can’t-stay-in-my-seat-quietly-for-more-than-a-minute class, but they are the ones speaking the most French with me during class and passing time. I feel so lucky, but I’ve been there and I feel your pain.

    Here are my two cents on dealing with that. I would always have a back up plan for that class: the story didn’t work, have one ready to display sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph on the board and do the usual questioning based on it. Give a 5 point true/false quiz at the end. Make sure your assessments are truly performance based; when they realize that they can’t get that easy “A” just by sitting there their attitude may change.

    And as far as that young lady, pull her aside and talk to her. Tell her that you realize that the class is not interesting/challenging enough for her and offer there these three options. One: she can come after school to help you plan for the next day and contribute all her wonderful ideas to make class a better place for everyone. Two: if she doesn’t feel like doing #1, she needs to suck it up and abide by your rules of class which include “no negativity”. A phone call or two might be needed to ensure you are serious about this. Three: if she doesn’t like either #1 or #2, she can have an alternative education plan à la Bryce Hedstrom (find it on his site and modify to suit your needs). She has a choice and in any case, you’re in control. Bonne chance!


    • Thanks Natailia and Michele!
      I have been thinking about this all week end. I appreciate so much the support and ideas we share here. Oddly enough the sassy kid who gives me so much lip is not one of the ones who has had Spanish before but instead the one student in class who scores lowest on assessments. I think that the ideas still apply in a slightly modified form.

      You guys rock my world so thanks again for taking the time to write and help!


  4. I was completely disabled for a year by a “team” led by one girl. She was aggressive in her comments (to the point of bullying her friends if they didn’t agree with her) and since it was middle school, one bad apple can really turn the bucket quickly.
    there wasn’t any support from admin. and though I don’t usually go that route (what happens here stays here). However I think that giving the admin heads up is good if you need to do that alternative educ. plan of Bryce’s. It may also be this young lady and friends are grouped together in other classes giving other teachers headaches. This is wilful and serious.


  5. Hello!
    I am in my 2nd year of TPRS (11th year teaching overall) but this year I am in a new school in a new state teaching a different language, one I haven’t consistently spoken in 20 years! It’s been rather stressful, worrying about getting the language to flow in the TPRS style, and still being fairly new to TPRS…the stress and my lack of success in connecting with some of my classes has me doubting my ability to teach, which is not the person I usually am. Ruth’s post describes one of my classes to a T. No buy-in, sassy (I’m being kind) girls who think the stories, circling or any part of repetition is “stupid”, etc, etc. I know this method works. I’ve seen it! I’ve experienced it! I don’t ever want to teach from a book again…yet there are days when I wonder how I ended up in the middle of the sea thrashing for my life without a speck of land or boat or even a buoy in sight. We have 90 minute block classes and when things aren’t on fire there’s a long time to slog through to the bell…and that’s what it feels like. I arrive an hour early, I stay more than an hour late and I’m up until 11pm…I prepare PQA ideas and write my stories, I get my posters and word wall going,I read blogs and my TPRS books…I have so many areas that I’m pumping my heart and soul into and then to have a student knock it down and poison the class atmosphere so that it all comes to a grinding halt, well, it’s sometimes more than I can take. I need to find a way to make the path to June a happy one, because right now it is…very rough. In my old school in my other language I could let the TPRS vibe flow and I could go with it. I need more structure this year and I need it now! Tonight!!!! The classes are year courses but completed in a semester. We strated in January, so it’s still technically the beginning of the year for me. I’ve been struggling to get the rhythm down, to find my groove with these kids…some are 18 and want out, some are 14 and want in, and some are in the middle…and they’re all in the same class.

    Thank you for finding the impossible time to keep your blog going and alive and vibrant. It is SO necessary and helpful! I would love to contribute a positive note…and I hope to soon. Right now I need a life preserver! I’m off to write my own story and serve it up a la the 15 ways to use a story.
    Good night, all!


    • Dear JL,

      I am so glad if anything we write helps you. It helps me immensely when things bomb or go sideways unexpectedly and someone pops up with an idea or even just a virtual shoulder pat.

      I am also very glad that you know you can do this and in fact had been doing it. Sometimes I send my parent class members a big thank-you because when I teach them I get proof that the method works, in a way that doesn’t always happen with teenagers.

      And February is a hard month, no matter what.

      I spent a lot of time reading everything for a long time, because I was sure that I could discover the best way to do things. It turned out there is any number of ways to do things right. On my private time, I have to limit myself or I will spend too much on this stuff. Last summer, Laurie taught me that the first picture I found was going to be good enough for any given project. There are a lot of ways to deal with any story, and a lot of PQA possibilities. You might give your kids the words for the next day and ask them to spend the last five minutes of class writing PQA questions, so that you’re not up all night. If kids are looking for their PQA questions, they’ll be a bit more focused. Look at Martina’s blog for lesson plans. (She has great lead-ins.) Adopt some straight over so that you don’t have to plan them. If you have Anne’s book, use that. I go to Bryce’s jokes and copy his plans when I need a break (and when I don’t). Really, as Susie might say, it doesn’t matter what you do if it’s CI. Make it structured, but don’t spend oodles of time on it right now if you can tear yourself away. Get outside. Breathe some. Find something silly to laugh at. When my kids were home, one of them would drag me to look at the Fail blog or the (Cakes gone bad?) blog.

      90 minutes is a hard schedule. Do not try to do storytelling the whole time. (I don’t know what your language is…) Can you have kids listen to songs and fill in cloze exercises for a few minutes, a la Laurie? (She gives them drawing samples for particular words, and they draw the pictures in the blanks…they have to listen to most songs about three or four times to fill in.) Can you do FVR? Dictation? Read-and-translate? All these things (and that 15-plan idea) can help give useful CI and not make you have to be in charge of everything, every minute.

      Something I did a few weeks ago when I was about to blow my top with a group was to stand in a laughing circle. Rather, we stood in a circle. I said, “Joey is laughing.” He did the “ha, ha, ha” thing. Then “Mary is laughing.” Joey stopped, but I told him he had to keep on with Mary. Pretty soon we were mostly either laughing or pretending to. I told them it was good for their brains to get oxygen and good for their abs to contract forcefully. Now they’re really worried when I tell them to get into a circle, but that day we really did laugh together, and we hadn’t for a while.

      Hugs. You can do this. You will again. You will find your groove and it will be better than ever.


  6. Oh dear JL. Do hang in there. All the support I got when I needed to vent helped to buoy me up and keep up good thoughts about what we do. We all know it works and we are so devoted to making it good for them that it hurts to be slammed or to not get the buy in we want.

    I am trying to get to bed at a decent hour so will just write a quick thought to try to help. One thing I love to do (and which in fact I did today) is to have kids re-read and draw the story. (This is after we have already read and translated together of course). There is a focus and a quiet that I love. They become sweeter as I think art brings out the child in them. They have to read to know what to draw and yet they are not aware of the reading as the task. There is a nice long break from you being on stage and you can just circulate and comment on the good you see in their drawings. They feel good that you appreciate their work and it shows they are paying attention. Afterwards I have them tell the story to each other (I often ask them to choose a partner they don’t usually sit by or work with, allowing some movement and a bit of newness for the brain), I circulate while they re-tell from pictures. My third activity is to pull one of their drawings up to the document camera and then ask volunteers to re-tell any part of the story they know to the entire class. They can add details to what someone else says, etc. It is a wonderful way to relax a little and to re-establish some “good vibes!”

    I used to stay up and write my stories but now I use old ones from other classes and previous years. Also you can have them help you to write the story you created (on the big screen) while everyone writes it down. Try to minimize your load. I sometimes feel like a slacker and yet I know I am actually giving them better than I ever did before and I believe better than a grammar teacher. I also really need to take care of myself and be healthy and strong to be my best.

    An update to my problem class. Things have improved (knock on wood!) thanks to all the support and I ideas from my friends. My little miss sassy was so good today (knock on wood). I know that I want to go in everyday reminding myself that none of us need any more stress in our lives and we need to be human (humane?) and kind to each other. They are just young and, teenagers I guess.

    Please have faith in the method and yourself. Don’t stress about being perfect. If you don’t have the best plan ever just go in and talk with them and work the structures that come up around something they are interested in (not always easy to get them engaged is it?).

    Hope all gets better very soon.


  7. Hang in there JL. I remember that my first year of TPRS felt like my first year of teaching all over again. I’m sure in a new school on a block schedule that feeling is even stronger because you don’t have any past students who have your back. Hang in there and you’ll develop your efficiencies/tricks of the trade that make things that much more fun. My German I class at the beginning of this year was very similar to what you describe (no buy in, the occasional undermining cut, etc.), and I just often looked forward to teaching my German II and III/IV classes where I could get back with people who liked me and I liked them.

    For me, I never was able to declaw my trouble kids until I got good at contacting parents, something that didn’t happen until just last year. I HATE the phone call, because if I’m calling I’m either too wound up (and not specific/cool enough) or not wound up enough (and somehow have justified the student’s behavior as “not that bad after all.”) What I learned, however, is that I can write an extremely sharp letter that does the trick instead.

    In writing I am very specific about the infractions a student does and then detail how their impact reduces student learning for others. I can more easily be justifiably angry in another student’s behalf than my own. I let out my frustration in the writing, but then have the luxury of rewriting the parts that come across as petty, and add bits in where I acknowledge some effort on the students part.

    The final bit I will do is call the student in after school ask them to read the letter I wrote and ask them if I should make any changes to it before I send it to their parents. This gives them a chance to be real in a one-on-one environment, and usually I get some good conversations arising out of this. Snippy students are really only well prepared for the world of verbal give and take and are often disarmed by an even-handed written approach.

    I still can’t phone well, but I wield a pretty mean pen.

    Good luck!


  8. Wow, thank you! After reading your wonderfully supportive replies I had a completely different day today. I also had a text from a friend who asked me to remember I was tougher and smarter than the kids….and believe it or not that did the trick. Sort of like, hello, who’s running the show here? I realized I was letting their negativity get to me. Being new in the school, new in the state, feeling new in the language, I wasn’t exactly coming at them in top form and I definitely wasn’t being assertive enough, which isn’t normally an issue for me at all. But with so many balls in the air, I let this one drop and today I started off the tough class with a new seating assignment, a little chat to remind them of my expectations and class rules, and a tight lesson plan (Ruth, I used your drawing the story idea b/c your “quiet and focus” comment sounded so appealing…and it worked!). Perfect antidote to the black abyss of yesterday. Just need to keep vigilant on the errant behavior.

    I took your advice and made sure I got out for a hike today with the pooch. It was 70 degrees…a great mind-clearer.

    Michele, thanks for the Martina tip. There is so much to read out there but I feel like I’m building the plane while it’s flying….there’s a pit of terror when it’s going down and a warm giddy feeling when we’re flying straight, but to stop and read and get help seems impossible! When I think of all the time needed to get a better handle on my own TPRS style (like intensive summer planning, workshops, etc), I think about the fact that I’m not even sure I’ll have a job teaching in the fall as this is just a long-term sub position until June. There is a Spanish job opening up for Sept, in what would be a 3rd TPRS language for me (I do teach it normally at least), but of course I can’t be sure I’ll get it. So for now, just trying to stay aloft w/o losing myself in too much work.

    Nathan, I’m teaching German now….how do your kids do with the cases? In college I remember writing charts down on scrap paper when I took tests. Lucky kids that they can skip all those charts! They were great for test taking but rather impeded speaking.

    I am amazed at the time everyone has to not just teach and create their own things but to share their experiences and materials on non-stop bogs! That’s like a 2nd job!

    Happy Friday to all! 🙂


  9. JL, I have a chart of my own making on the wall for the cases, but only refer to it now an again in German II and III/IV. I’ve got bigger fish to fry, but I can refer to it as a “just recognize this for now” item when breaking down a reading for a quick grammar blurb, or explaining endings that students ask about in the text (such as why my name is written Herrn Black sometimes instead of Herr Black).

    Great to hear that you’ve got your sea legs back. Hang in there!


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