Report from the Field – Diane Neubauer

This is a compilation of three emails that I got from Diane. If you are a middle school teacher trying to implement comprehension based instruction in your classroom, it is worth the long read:

Email #1:

Hi Ben,

Can you post something about my situation on the blog? I really feel a need for wisdom and power to work through a difficult class: my 7th graders. I am frustrated.

I teach sections of 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. All of those classes “get it” except for the 7th graders. The other classes are going quite well, kids are enjoying themselves, they can handle stories and acting, and I’m seeing gains in their comprehension (and emerging output) compared to years past. They are creative and fun. When a child or two goes outside expected jGR behavior (which usually means talking in English off-task), I can remind them (with a hand held up with the number of the behavior in my version of jGR) and they either get back on, or I send them out of the room next time with a workbook section to do for a few minutes. So things are going well with the others.

The 7th grade class, though, has been a minor hell. They were not a great class last year (pre-TPRS) either, but it’s worse now that I’m expecting them to respond communicatively. Here are the problems:

– Poor listening. I have to repeat things (not just language input: directions, information) multiple times – not just Chinese, it’s an English problem, too. They are not good at hearing and attending to oral communication. Almost as if half the class has severe, undiagnosed ADD/ADHD.

– Talking over others, me and classmates. Enough that I expect I lose about 5-10 minutes of class time per DAY as I wait or deal with sending kids out of the room.

– Poor level of response to circling questions. I do not have this problem with any other class, so I tend to think it’s the 7th graders more than it is me at this point. I get 2-3 respondents and a lot of silence most days. I have directly talked about this with them multiple times. I have slowed down, pointed and paused. We have students translate questions I’m asking to clarify at times. Still a low response rate after that. So sometimes there are comprehension problems, but I also think they are not willing to do the rigorous work of listening with the intent to understand.

– Bad attitudes. I hear that some of my 7th grade students are talking about how boring Chinese is. (Because I won’t let them run over my plans for CI input during class, perhaps? Because I won’t let them draw the attention of the room to themselves? Because I actually expect them to listen, think, and respond throughout class? Hmm. I can say that the textbook exercises I was doing with them last year weren’t more fun – but they got away with more off-task English conversations then. Hmm.)

There are kids in there who want to learn but they are (mostly) quiet by personality. The loud personalities are ones who have the bad attitudes, habitually talk over, don’t listen well, etc. I have 3 kids really living up to jGR expectations right now. The others know their grades are lower and they seem bothered by that, but not enough to change their attitudes.

I consider doing what I did with my 8th graders last month which really helped that class. I showed them a couple minutes of a DPS teacher (Mike Mallaney) and how his class was going. We talked about what the kids were and were not doing. They were listening, watching the action, answering together in the target language, and actors were calm with a little bit of ham. It seems to have helped the 8th graders because I’ve never had to deal with general silence or general pandemonium since then. They seem to have got it & they know how to play the game. I really want my 7th graders to get it. I don’t like this level of stress and frustration!

Thank you.

Diane

Email #2:

Further update:

I talked with this class all period today instead of trying to do any content. It begun with my saying that I am not willing for their class to continue as it was yesterday. They began raising their hands (wow, and hardly talking over each other – or at least they’d stop if asked). I showed them the ACTFL 90% guide and why I was doing what I have been doing in their class. They at least heard me say that becoming fluent in a language means getting lots of input: listening and written input.

Their complaints: – Some of them hate jGR. One “loses hope” because of it. I mentioned they could change their behavior. – Some of them hate stories. – They had a variety of other complaints, but mainly were “more variety in class” and “more competition and games” (which I told them why I took away – they weren’t listening to directions, shouted and talked over each other, and made life unpleasant for me. They think that is having fun.) – They don’t like to answer comprehension check questions. They think I repeat too much. But they won’t answer. – They want to make up their own skits and write more, and make videos of their output. (Often, their writing has been dropped from my plans b/c they had such deplorable engagement in class that everything took too long. No responses, crabby responses, etc.)

A couple of their minor points I think I can accommodate, but some of them want to do book exercises in class instead of stories. That’s where I begin to think no compromise can be made. At least the tone of the class period was much less adversarial from them than yesterday. I can at least say I listened to them. They did agree that the workbook homework sucked!

I’m still not sure where to go with this group.

Email #3:

Hi Ben,

I have done some praying and processing, by typing, about my mostly-lousy 7th graders. I now feel talking with them on Friday was good. I found posts about Robert’s way of dealing with uncooperative kids with the silent, calm thing and I know I could not come close to pulling that off. I am too frustrated and the kids are too vocal. I got to know specifically what their beef is and why they are constantly fighting me in class. Mostly for bad reasons, but a few I can address.   So anyway, the weekend has given me a couple days to consider how to begin again with them on Monday. I typed up a big document which I probably will only refer to a little bit in class Monday, but it gives me the fortitude to face them again. It includes what I’ll allow from their complaints, some info on how research shows it is through lots of input we acquire language, not through early output, and what they need to accept and enjoy about how class will be. These kids whined and complained the first quarter of last year, too, when I was not always teaching with CI as the goal. I am getting ready to hold the line, write to their parents, and call them on their bad attitude (that is, continue to drop their jGR grade if they won’t change). It really does feel like a war with them but I am determined to win. I actually began to feel cheerful about that this afternoon and the stress is lower.   Anyway, publish my “Report from the Field” or not – whatever you think. I don’t feel as desperate as I did a couple days ago though.

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17 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Diane Neubauer”

  1. What a wealth of things for us to discuss above! I feel that there is not one of us who at some point hasn’t experience some degree of exactly this kind of frustration. I personally feel very strongly, Diane, that this will not last and that they will come around. I’m sure that the group will give you some focused advice. Here are my own observations:

    1. Last year they got to do stuff like skits and games, right? And then this is the year that you are trying to switch it up on them? So you are taking them from fruitless activities (if you think skits and games lead to TL acquisition, stop reading now and stop your membership in this PLC bc you are in the wrong group) to rigorous stuff. And they are so young. And not accustomed to rigor. Of course they will give you attitude! It’s their job. But, by keeping to your intentions, they will slowly get it.

    2. Susie always told me – when I complained that they didn’t try hard enough to understand – that they didn’t understand not through any fault of their own at all but completely because I was going too fast. End of discussion on that. When they don’t understand, we are going too fast. It is human nature to want to learn, but only at speeds that are operable for them can a language be actually processed, and it is always a lot longer than we think, esp. with Chinese, which my colleague Annick Chen in DPS estimates takes twice as long as a modern language. (By the way that is Mark Mallaney in DPS and yes he is a great teacher and so slow all the time! Here is that link to the DPS teachers on line – look for the Mark Mullaney link:

    http://www.schooltube.com/channel/dpsworldlanguages/

    3. I think, and this is just my opinion, that the sending them out of the room is just shaming and has no effect. The entire theme here the past month has been hit ’em where it hurts – in the gradebook with jGR. This may not have enough clout the way you are using it. You said that “The others know their grades are lower and they seem bothered by that, but not enough to change their attitudes.” Then make them more bothered. I sense that you and probably about 90% of the rest of us are just a little bit shy to sock it to them with jGR. We need to get over that one. jGR is only as effective as we make it.

    4. I have to laugh not to cry at this:

    …they want to make up their own skits and write more, and make videos of their output….

    and this:

    …some of them want to do book exercises in class instead of stories….

    Really, this is a class that has been allowed to do these things, those things were easy, now you are bringing rigor to them, and, as I said above, they are doing exactly what any group of kids would do in this situation. Rebel. But don’t give up. Just soften. And GIVE THEM JOBS.

    I am certain this will change. I think the group will very much appreciate following this, watching it get better. Keep this thread going. Share once a week at least. You are not experiencing this alone – we all have some variation of this rebellion going on right now in our classrooms. It’s normal for October, really.

    5. One more very important thing from me. You said this:

    …they don’t like to answer comprehension check questions. They think I repeat too much. But they won’t answer….

    They don’t answer because they don’t understand. Period.

    6. Possible action plan:

    1. Present about 25% of the amount you are presenting now. Even that 25% right there is way too much. I think that this is the real answer right here to this issue. It is the big deal. Limit input.
    2. SLOW – do it. This is the other biggest piece besides limiting structures.
    3. Ask the big complainer for her help.
    4. Stay in bounds.
    5. Use jGR for effect – that means flunk them if need be. Use jGR honestly.
    6. Check for understanding by insisting on complete class choral one word answers to everything you say.

    One last thought and boy can I relate. It is their job as kids to push back. That is part of growing up. Pushing away from the adults in their lives. I think you are letting them see how much you want this to work too much. I have always done that. But it is their natural kid thing to reject what you want so much. Want less. Relax. So much to say but we will hopefully get a good thread on this and things will get better. They even got better from the first to the third email! I’m very confident that this class will turn around.

    You could pull a Blaine – go straight to book work tomorrow. Don’t stop for two weeks. When they want stories just casually respond that you do too but in this class it wasn’t working. Then the next day they ask again and the answer is the same. Next day same thing. Do not give in for two weeks! Act real casual about it. Laser point to rule #4 on the Classroom Rules poster. Tell them that you have to work too hard in this class and without help and good will you can’t do stories so you have decided to do the book. Two weeks. Then, act like it is a huge effort on your part and tell them ok we’ll try it for one day but let’s review the norms first – then go over Classroom Rules, jGR, etc. That is what I would do right now tomorrow if I were you with that class. And I’d make it a full two weeks.

  2. Thanks for posting my long emails, Ben! And for your comments. And thanks to the group in advance for ideas and for reading.

  3. Wow, Diane, your seventh graders sound a lot like my last year’s ninth graders.

    First of all, don’t let this class define your concept of how good a teacher you are. It isn’t you; it’s the class. (My class last year was so bad that I would have left teaching if I had been a new teacher without the perspective of several years to know that this particular group of students was an anomaly.)

    Second, be ready for this class never to embrace fully what you are doing. Expect them to be resistant (though not necessarily antagonistic), easily distracted, prone to complaint, etc. Each class has a personality, and this seems to be that class’s personality.

    Third, the silence works with individuals or small groups of students. If the entire class is going wild, they will feed off of themselves and continue the wild behavior; other measures are necessary.

    Fourth, it is appropriate for you to tell them what they have missed because of their behavior. My class last year heard several times that there was a fun activity I had wanted to do or a video I had wanted them to see, but we didn’t have time to do it. Everything simply takes longer with this class – even this year when they are less resistant and the true troublemakers are gone from the school. (Yes, these students were troublemakers to that degree.)

    Fifth, I think Ben has given you some good advice. I just want to pick up on a couple of items he noted:
    …they want to make up their own skits and write more, and make videos of their output….
    …some of them want to do book exercises in class instead of stories….

    You did a good job of diagnosing the issue: they got away with more off-task English conversations then. They don’t really want to work, remember through a distorted lens the pleasure of that off-task behavior, and yearn for it. They disguise this, though, by asking for a different kind of “work” – a kind that is educationally acceptable. (Obviously they know how the school game works.) As Ben indicated, the trick is to give them what they asked for without giving them what they want. Don’t just return to book work but return to book work on steroids. Plan things so that a student who is diligent could get all of it done during the period, but anyone who is off task cannot. Then collect it at the end of the period. Do not allow anyone to take it home as homework. If students are absent, then they get the previous work packet when they return as well as the work for that day – the work doesn’t lessen because they were absent. You could even let them plan a video or skit this way. But to create the skit or video they must give you – using class time only – a storyboard and a fully fleshed-out script including stage directions and dialogue in the target language. They must also give you a statement of who did what in the group so you can see if the work was distributed fairly and you can distribute the grade on the project fairly. I’ll send Ben a copy of a Statement of Involvement that I have used in the past. Every student in the group must sign the statement that he or she agrees with the description of involvement. (So, if a student is listed as “did nothing”, you have a signature that the student agreed with this.) Again, be merciless in figuring the amount of time for this “project” – just enough that a diligent student can do it, but goofing off will sabotage the grade. Do not let students take the storyboard or script home; all work must be done in class. Only when complete can they take it home for reference. It must be memorized and it must be spot on; that is, they must speak precisely the script they have written with natural intonation and good pronunciation. Any deviation from the script, unintelligible pronunciation or monotone delivery will be graded down. (Remember, they aren’t asking to do natural communication but rehearsed presentation. Most students have no idea how bad they are at this; you might even film them.) If they do a video and you catch anyone in the video reading lines, they fail the project. Same thing if they try to crib notes in a skit. This is serious stuff! Be sure you make this rubric absolutely clear from the first, perhaps even sending it home for parental signature. This is an extreme solution, but it is along the lines of “be careful what you ask for, because you might get it.” Again, give them what they ask for (work sheets, book work, skits) not what they want (class time in which they can be off task and speak English with their friends).

    There is huge cognitive dissonance in Ben’s #5: …they don’t like to answer comprehension check questions. They think I repeat too much. But they won’t answer….
    They won’t – or can’t – answer, but they think you repeat too much. That may be a defense mechanism to disguise their lack of understanding, or it may be the very common mistake of identifying recognition with acquisition. Remember, the goal is automaticity. Perhaps a sports analogy will help them understand. Larry Byrd became a great basket player because he spent hours on his own practicing the skills. It was endless repetition, and he practiced shooting baskets from every place on the court. The team would go home, but Larry Byrd stayed behind for hours practicing on his own. It is only when that kind of repetition takes place that automaticity occurs. Do they want to be the equivalent of a junk ball player or a Larry Byrd (Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal – or whoever they would relate to)?

    At the same time, think about how you get the repetitions. Have you fallen into a highly predictable pattern of question asking? Do students know that you will always ask a yes-question, then an either/or-question, then a no-question, then a where-question, etc.? It’s easy for us to do, and I have to fight against that all the time. Part of the reason it’s so easy to do is the way it is presented at workshops; that presentation is necessary to learn the skill, but at some point the training wheels become limiting. Something that helped me (and I think I got this from Susie Gross) was to make a small card with the various question types on it. I would hold that in my hand while talking and randomly move my thumb up and down it. Then I would look, and wherever my thumb was, I would ask that question. It introduced an element of randomness that I needed to break out of the pattern. I also posted a larger version on a bulletin board at the back of the room that I could see so that I could make certain I was asking all of the questions, not just a favored few.

    Finally, I would encourage you to continue the dialogue. No doubt you will hear (and have already heard) things you won’t particularly like, but you can use this for two purposes: 1. let the students know that they are being heard (It may be the only time in their school lives that a teacher actually listens to them about the conduct of the class); 2. for self analysis. Not everything your students tell you will be valid, but some of it will. Sift through the chaff to get to the wheat. Then act on the legitimate things. (To continue the analogy, bake better bread.)

    And keep us informed.

  4. Hi Diane,
    I echo what others have said: it’s not you, it’s them, and hang in there. If your majority has ADD/ADHD (undiagnosed or diagnosed), that makes it really challenging. Especially if they have a habit of feeding off of each other.
    Besides jGR, I use ‘Refocus’ sheets for students who disrupt in the moment. It’s for talking over, speaking in English, being a jackass, whatever behavior that takes away from learning. I spent a lot of classroom time explaining it, even role-playing with my most challenging group in a funny way to get some good will flowing in this socially weird group, plus two separate quizzes-one the first day they learned it, and one at the beginning of next class. So I’ve trained them to follow a certain procedure. If someone disrupts, I look at them and say, ‘refocus.’ This means they have to take the clipboard out in the hall (if my room was big enough I would have them stay in the room) where they fill out a boring form about what they did, why they did it, why it has a negative impact on the class, etc. Then they know they will have to spend some kind of time with me-during lunch, break, after school, whenever I can get them-maybe for a full detention period. I’ve told them, and they repeated to me, and even took a quiz and got a 100 over all this stuff. If you are told to ‘refocus’ it means you owe me time when it is convenient to me, and I will let you know when. I like to do it during the day, like lunch, or recess if they have it. AFter school you get into transportation and notifying parents and all that foolishness. but if the lunch or little times don’t do the trick you gotta up it a bit. If they aren’t honest on the form, they want to blame someone else, or say it wasn’t a problem for the class, you talk to them about it until they do it correctly. I use Socratic questioning to get them to at least verbally take responsibility. It can be uncomfortable but don’t let them off the hook. Just like wait time. I may or may not follow up with a phone call home. I keep all the forms in a folder and if someone has more than two then I can take more steps.
    This has been successful for me, so much so that all the other middle school teachers in my school have adopted it. The key is to really really take more time than you think necessary to teach the procedure. Giving warnings is enabling the behavior. Once you have explained it enough, and they show understanding, start using it. I had to have a kid ‘refocus’ on the first day of school this year, after reviewing the procedure and taking a quick quiz on it (which the same group used last year). The kid has ADHD, is not medicated, and is a chronic talker and disrupter. He did not like having to have lunch in my room alone. He was pretty mad when he had to fill out the refocus form the following week and stay after school. He has now managed to get through the 80 min class without disrupting since the second week of September. He has two classroom jobs-to ask me if there is any work to return to them, since I often forget to return corrected papers, and he is a structure counter.
    One reason this works for me is that I don’t have to be consistent with consequences. I just have to be consistent with calling kids on disruption. The other day I had an angry sixth grader who wanted a drink and I wouldn’t let him go. He wanted to fight about why I should let him. I said: ‘follow directions or refocus’ and flashed him a smile. He tried to burn me with his eyes (oh please, 11 year old), but dropped his verbal argument. We start the activity, and he raises his hand, and says, ‘When are we going to use French in real life?’ To which I replied ‘Refocus, please.’ You can see the relief in the other kids eyes. They know they’re not about to witness a pissing contest. They know the adult is in control. He did the form, checked off that he was ready to come in and not disrupt, went on with class. After class he asked, ‘what are you gonna do?’ and I said, ‘don’t worry about it now, I’ll let you know.’
    I’ll grab him at recess to go over the form, then I might have him wash desks or do something else for the classroom, or I might have him sit and think about life. I may grab him for a second recess. That part is up to my discretion.
    Something else that works with argumentative groups is to reply, ‘Nevertheless’ to their complaints. This is dumb! they say. you can nod, and say, ‘nevertheless’ and go on with the activity. It’s not up to them what they do. Kids don’t always choose what is best for them.
    I agree with Ben that you let them know too much about how much you want it to work. You aren’t there to please them or entertain them. But if their behavior is bad, you should back off of content and train them in behavior until they get it. I would maybe do half the class is behavior, the other half is textbook stuff. You could even say, behavior in here is getting in the way of learning. We will be discussing behavior expectations until you demonstrate that you are ready to learn. It might be painful, but it will be worth it.
    PS: if you have really extreme behavior, like a kid threatening to urinate in a trash can, or someone refusing to do anything you say, then of course you have to go to extreme measures, like dismissing the rest of the class, getting administration, whatever your school does for that stuff. The refocus is for the low-level foolishness that railroads your work and gives the class that uncomfortable chaotic feeling.
    Keep up the great work!
    Kate L.

  5. Wow Diane! Your class sounds just like my 8th graders. I showed them a video of Ben teaching, and it worked, but only for like 2 days. Thank you for sharing all the details. I was going to post about my group, but I have all the ammo I need now! I think I am going to try the total silence combined with the book work. Problem is, I got rid of all my books. I might start by having them translate from the novel all period. Or I could scrounge up copies of different random texts and give them each a different one. This would make it obvious that there is no way they can collaborate.

    I’m going to try hard to frame the whole shift as “not a punishment, but a way to help them see and feel the boundaries.” I don’t want to have a constant vibe in class that the kids are “doing things wrong.” I know a few kids are feeling this way, with the rubric hovering over their heads like a black cloud. That said, they can make different choices. One thing I have not shown is the ACTFL statement. Maybe this “official document” will help.

    I have a pretty good hunch that since they have no frame of reference for the kinds of boundaries that are in place, they think there are none. This is 50% my responsibility, so I’m using this as an opportunity to cinch in the fence so that they really feel it.

  6. Thank you all so very much! I am reading and digesting ideas. I’d like more feedback on the send them out/keep them in the room issue. The disruptive kids are SO disruptive (talking, singing, swinging their desks around – 2/3 boys like this) & kids who want to learn can’t hear themselves think sometimes. Nor can I. Sending out disruptive kids is a normal thing at my school. I love the few minutes of respite. I agree that warnings are pretty fruitless. Just fail them on jGR and hope that over time they change?

    Another thing I’d like more ideas about: how to address (in the moment) the fact that student A is having a conversation with student B, in English, while I am talking & asking questions. Do I say something? Do I point to the chart? (These, students with problems say, they really dislike.) Do I write it down silently on a chart?

    Here are a couple factors:
    – I’m aware of the predictability issue with circling questions. Room for improvement certainly, but not terrible.
    – One area they were correct about is that I’d lost most of my lightheartedness with them. They had comments about little goofy habits they find fun but that I’ve stopped this year (unintentionally). As their misbehavior grew worse, I went on low simmer.
    – They definitely realize I want this to work, and they know that for my other classes, it is. I can let go of that (any time! whenever I want! just watch me do it! ha ha ha). I can let go of my desire for ‘success’ by God’s grace only. I can’t let in the fear about whether these kids look good to other people (and therefore I look good in a school that demands excellence yesterday and is reducing faculty).
    – Problem boy #1 almost definitely has confused recognition with acquisition. He got a C+ on a quiz last week and had announced he’d get the highest grade. He was historically an A+ student. He complains and makes faces when I wait for slower students to respond. It’s terribly rude. Unacceptably rude.
    – I will be harder with jGR. I’m going to change the form I use. I had split up the skills into 6 areas and they rated 2-1-0 for each, which meant that they had to do poorly in several areas to fail. I will switch to the scale of 10 where all behaviors make you choose your score. So lots of off-task talking (but still responding in Chinese, etc.) fails the kid regardless of whatever else they do correctly. Problem kids already hate jGR though. This will NOT be popular, but it might help remove my angry feelings as it plays bad cop even more (as Ben posted somewhere). I think I might need to explain Interpersonal Communication as a concept more. I might read a bit of my document I wrote to clear up my thinking – it has info on all this – at the beginning of class just for a couple minutes during this period of serious engagement.
    – I have contacted parents since email #3 and I explained expectations and “the talk” with students. Some great, supportive responses from 3 parents who don’t have problem kids.

  7. For me, blurting, English and side conversations knock the kid down to a C, no matter what their proficiency at TL response. I am having the exact same issues as you are Diane. I feel like I have lost my sense of fun with a couple of the groups. I have. It is not fun to be constantly stopping class. It makes me cranky. I am not even a cranky person, but I’m sure that from this group’s perspective I am.

    Right now I am rifling through my shelves to find something “bookish” for them to work on for the next 2 weeks. Problem is that my class is level 1 so they have only had about 6 weeks of attempted PQA, OWI, CWB and a couple stories. I wonder if doing solid reading and decoding will damage them? Especially since I remember Krashen suggesting that all of year 1 be aural input. Any ideas on this?

    Here are the options I have found so far: Schaums grammar workbook, AMSCO “French First Year,” AMSCO “French is Fun” …or I can just have them read and translate “Les Aventures d’Isabelle,” which we have done some work with out loud. Most appealing to me is Isabelle because I would not have to photocopy anything. They can just sit down with their composition books and go at it. But AMSCO would certainly be more tortuous. Geez, listen to me. Sick. Truly sick (not in the modern colloquial sense). If I were less lazy I could go downstairs to the other classroom to find an actual textbook. And maybe even some workbooks. I will do this if someone presents a compelling reason that this would be better than any of the above options.

    How do I use the rubric for these 2 weeks? I assume I clarify that I am adjusting the descriptors so that they must maintain silence. They may raise their hand to ask me a question. Other than that if they speak, that is a “blurt,” and the assessment is as per the rubric. But since we are supposed to be interacting in the language, as per ACTFL, then for the 2 weeks they are not interacting, what are the interpersonal skills they are practicing? Just thinking out loud here. 1) listening for instructions 2) asking for clarification…but other than that no “responding” of any kind. So the highest grade they could get on interpersonal is a C?

    Sorry about all the niggly questions. I just want to have this in place clearly as of tomorrow.

  8. Jen, following instructions is responding. don’t change the rubric. that’s too much work. and you can still assess if they use appropriate communication as they ask you for a pencil or for clarification. Good luck with them.

  9. Diane asked: I’d like more ideas about: how to address (in the moment) the fact that student A is having a conversation with student B, in English, while I am talking & asking questions.

    In this situation, if you stop and say anything to them, they usually protest that they were talking about the lesson. Yeah, sure. I found the most effective way was to stop talking in mid-sentence, give them the Queen Victoria “We are not amused” look and wait for them to stop. Often they were so absorbed that they didn’t realize I had stopped, but all the rest of the class would fall silent and look at them. Somebody would go “shhhh”, and they would stop and if I kept on waiting, they would turn around and assume their “attentive student” pose. At which point I would politely (regally?) and very calmly say, “Thank you” and go on with my lesson. If you stop talking Every Time someone else is talking, you will have a quieter class. I told my students that I couldn’t talk over them and if we were going to communicate, there could only be one person talking at a time. If you ignore a whispered conversation going on in the back of the class, it tells the whole class that it’s okay to carry on conversations while the teacher is talking. ( And adults do the same thing in many meetings.) Basically, it’s rude behavior in any situation and should definitely count on the rubric for interactive communicative skills.

    1. Thanks, Judy. 7th grade class is up next! I will do it today, even if it means we get 5 sentences spoken. I find that so frustrating, and probably the problem kids count on that – wait for me to stop holding the line.
      Today I’m also using the single-check jGR slips like Michele made. Some of my 8th graders still don’t get it that talking in English throughout class time is really, really not okay.

  10. I think that there are two factors in play here. One, they aren’t used to being called on their side conversations. However you call them on it, do so. (I do what judy said, just stop teaching, bc sending kids out just doesn’t work and sets up opposition.) A second factor is that they don’t understand.

    The two factors together are devastating to the lesson. I can’t even keep a focus on Linda Li when there are 100 focused teachers at conventions and the room is pin drop quiet. Real acquisition is that hard* and why many of our conversations here all revolve around the discipline piece. This is critical. Let us know how the 7th grade class went today.

    This may be a stupid idea, but you know those clappers you can get at Party City? Plastic hands that make loud clapping noises when shaken? Could they be used here in any way? Grasping for straws here, but the main thing is that if the talkers do not fear you, they will not stop and your long pauses waiting for them to stop talking will be taken as a message that they control the teacher.

    I would not teach CI here. I would explain jGR one last time, award a failing 1 or 2 from the rubric for a big part of their grade so that the math means an F overall, call the parents of the worst ones, and go to the book for two weeks. They don’t know or care much if it is a story or a book, in many cases. If kids talk on the side and don’t respect jGR, it’s book time in my opinon. Not all classes deserve stories.

    *Diane I really believe that you have been able to describe here in what you are experiencing the situation 99% of us in this community are in. It’s the secondary school thing. Anybody could do CI with motivated adults, for example, esp. paying motivated adults. But here in secondary schools we are in a true no man’s land, where the greatness of the method conflicts with the inability of these untrained and rude children to do what we want to them to do in terms of behavior first – not their fault really, but that’s the way it is. It just shows how super important the discussion we had to start the year was about getting a discipline system (jGR or whatever) in place. We should never think it is us. Civil human interaction in a social setting like a classroom would never allow the kind of side talking and rude comments that we see in American classrooms unless the society was really off base and that is what this is all about – a society in which children are out of control and few adults confront them. Somebody has to. But it’s not really about getting better at CI. Of course, we can always improve on our CI delivery techniques – that is the yoga practice here and it never ends. But the thing truly in our way is exactly what you have brought to us in these three emails. You have put aside your ego and brought this stuff to us and we are really grateful bc we – most of us – really are dealing with every single day and some of us totally exhausted and it’s only November. So let’s just keep talking. It won’t all be figured out at once. But, little by little, we will see what a great hammer we have in jGR. I sense that the extent to which we learn to USE that hammer is the big problem now. Many of us have never held a hammer and are afraid to let it swing hard into the nails. But we must. We won’t see change until their grades are impacted. This is a most important thread. Let’s keep at it here. Specifically, connect jGR to failing grades and have the parent conferences. Start with the worst kid and work your way down. It’s the only way, in my view. I suggest that we make next week into “Make jGR Work in Your Classroom” week in our community.

  11. Thanks again, everyone. I think that I will not have to go to book work or the kill-them-with-skit-writing approach. I tested today, and it worked much better. Two kids (only 2!) failed jGR today, and three were A+’s. More than before.
    I am now beginning class with some kind of 1-minute talk related to class dynamics and expectations. I told them it’s re-education. I showed them the new jGR form and discussed “attentive,” noting that blurting & English discussions put you at C’s or below no matter how much you answer in Chinese. We talked about how sentence-long, natural output (A+) takes time, but that one-word answers are possible for all of them now (A) so all of them can achieve that goal. There was some good discussion from a few kids about these points. It felt like I was out of the equation: it was about them and a form to evaluate themselves, and I was the facilitator. There was much less antagonism from them.

    I also gave them a sentence or two about how most of the fun in the class comes from their ideas. That I am not there to entertain them, but to provide multiple ways and opportunities for them to comprehend and acquire Chinese language.

    I had a simpler lesson approach. If it bombed, I would’ve passed out a sheet they would fill out with their class schedule (silently!). I had a lesson planned with days of the week, review of classes (which they forgot from last year), and times of day. Days of the week & times of day have been a topic for a week or more & both rely on numbers heavily, which they do know. We compiled a goofy chart of Vermin Supreme’s “classes” each day. Lots & lots of reps on “Does he have _ class on (day of week)?” “What day does he have _ class?” Much better response rate, and much better comprehension of the questions (I asked for a lot of translation of the questions).
    A formerly quiet kid decided to speak, and added the first cute class idea: video games class. And then they started to get it. We added times later. English class was 2.5 minutes long and chorus met Thursday at 3am, etc.

    Still need to get better at responding immediately with silence if students are talking, but I did. None sent out – two would’ve been the way I had been before.

    I do have a plastic clapper thing (got it free at a concert in China – it’s realia! ACTFL would be proud). What were you thinking to use it for, Ben? I’ve kept it high on a shelf & am not letting classes know about it yet. I thought one day it could be applause for actors or something. I have a LED-lit wand, too. Also from the concert in China.

  12. Diane, it sounds like you’ve turned a corner and are on your way. Good going. I liked reading “There was some good discussion from a few kids about these points. It felt like I was out of the equation: it was about them and a form to evaluate themselves, and I was the facilitator. There was much less antagonism from them.” This is what Alfie Kohn says our role should be. A facilitator. I’m reading “Punished by Rewards” and wish I had a second life and could start all over again. If I had known about TPRS and Ben Slavic and Alfie Kohn forty years ago ……

  13. Here’s my one-week update. The majority of the 7th grade is now living up to class expectations. Some new ones are contributing fun ideas in class. I’m not doing stories with them, but I’m also finding the place of simplicity and slowness needed for them to comprehend. I can do CI without stories if need be. All year if need be.

    Two boys remain somewhat oppositional. One is extremely hard to please about anything (food, sports, weather, anything!) and doesn’t like rigor; one who thinks he is too smart for the class and says he’s bored. Let’s call him Problem Boy #1. I’ve met with the moms of those boys in parent-teacher conferences, and Problem Boy #1 came along to his mom’s conference. Things were clearly discussed, moms understand and support me, and mom of PB#1 thanked me for grading them on their Interpersonal Communication skills. Nice! Boy showed no liking for that discussion. I talked openly about his finding class boring, and discussed on the one hand how some of that ‘boredom’ needs to be removed with a change of attitude and an understanding that recognizing language is a very different level of language ability than acquisition – and that is the goal. So when he comprehends, excellent! That’s not boring, that’s the foundation for being able to communicate in the classroom. Then he can contribute positively to class discussion through suggesting fun ideas (I gave him examples from class this week – other kids’ great contributions). He looked at me as if in pain and whined out, “You mean like that Justin Beiber story?” (Hey, they said it, not me!)

    I also read from the ACTFL paragraph at the bottom of page 3 here: http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/StandardsforFLLexecsumm_rev.pdf to illustrate that his excellent recall for vocabulary was wonderful, but that communication is the goal. And he needs to change to make that work for him. Let’s say he’s not showing immediate signs of adapting to expectations, but now I know mom is on my side, and his other teachers see similar “I’m too good for this class” attitudes – so does mom at home!

  14. Hi all,
    I wanted to add another update about this class. They continue to be a challenge with behavior (blurting, talking over each other, not listening) but their attitude about learning Chinese with CI methods is much, much better. They act relaxed, happy, and I see a lot of smiles on their way out of class.

    It’s now a battle to manage their enthusiasm for being together in class rather than a battle to get them to engage. The jGR is the last thing they resent, but they need it badly. They will, I hope, feel the impact on their upcoming semester grades (end of semester is this Friday) and make changes for next semester.

    They are a handful for other teachers, too, in terms of being too chatty and not listening well. There’s some comfort in that. I’ll be contacting parents about problems with a few kids today. I sent two out of the room (separate times) which was a final grasp at regaining control. It did help, particularly with one student.

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