It's Not Enough to Teach Well

This is from Leah. It’s her turn. It goes in the “Observations by Idiots” category on the right side of this page:
Ben,
I’m looking for advice and also for my fellow CI teachers to lift my spirits. Here’s my situation:
I have a new supervising principal this year who will evaluate me (he is not new to the school). He has no training in language acquisition, to my knowledge. His background is math. He recently observed me for the last 20 minutes of a level 1 class, and the first 8 minutes of the next level 1 class. Our “post-observation” meeting did not go well.
My first mistake is not filling in my lesson plans for Fridays, because Fridays are “memrise.com” days in my room. I realize my mistake, but I have never been a person to just do something because I am required to. If filling in boxes on a lesson plan is not helping my students, why waste my time? Okay, because I should probably keep my job, I guess… But, again I’ve always felt a rebel at heart. I genuinely enjoy my days teaching, thanks to finding this website and CI / TPRS, but I don’t enjoy feeling criticized and not appreciated for all the hard work that I do, by the person who should be there to support me!
During the portion of the lesson he saw, we did Textivate, a dictation, and a planned math bail out (currency, not arithmetic). He has never seen any other lesson in my classroom, minus me making a couple announcements at the beginning of a class, ever.
For Textivate (fill in the blank), I had a student working my computer projected for the class, and all students wrote the words on their paper for each blank. Students took turns answering, and I made sure everyone answered several times (no one person dominating).
This principal said this activity was not rigorous! Mind you, this is a full German story script, and I translated nothing for them.  I disagreed. I stated that the work “should feel easy to them. One of my first goals is to build confidence in them, that they can acquire the language.” He said they could have worked in pairs on chunks of the text, and shared out the answers after, that that would be more rigorous. Would that really have helped? He stated that they should be challenged more. He has no idea what rigor looks like. I was thinking of giving him Robert Harrell’s explanation printed out, but should I bother? Will it do more harm than go
He also wanted to see more differentiation. Never mind that I have a list of 50 student jobs posted on my cabinet, which he never noticed, never asked about, and that I differentiate throughout the year more than any other class. I had a student working the laptop (job) that period, but this admin said I should be at the computer, in order to take myself out of the equation, and that that student could be doing what I was doing (sitting on a desk, prompting them to answer each blank). Is this suggestion bizarre to anyone else? He asked what someone could have done if they finished early (no one did!) and I answered, write the quiz, of course, to which he did not respond.
I did a dictation for a warm-up (because it calms my loud class) and he said it lasted too long. Well, when I do short warm-ups, and they miss them because they come in 5 minutes late, they have no idea that they missed anything. I want them to know that we are doing something “important”, and when the students see paper, they equate that with “more points” (even though we CI teachers know this is false).
I feel like I am banging my head against the wall. This person knows nothing about CI, which I can’t fault them for. However, I feel like they are picking at things to tell me to change, with no reason as to why to change it. I told this person, in response to these silly suggestions, “If something is not broke, why fix it?” He responded that I was disagreeing with him on all of his suggestions. Yes, I am, because he has no experience, no evidence, and what I am doing is working!
I could have sat there and nodded okay to it all. Should I? With our head principal (my previous supervisor for 3 years) I had no issue, ever.  He observed me, said fine, and that was it.
I received no praise and only critique from this principal. Yet, I’m more happy with how I am teaching now than I ever was.
I was going to give this person the newer, shorter, Administrators Checklist. However, some days (like with Textivate or memrise/duolingo.com on laptops, it doesn’t apply. I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot. Thoughts?
Should I try to educate this person on CI? Or, should I just nod and smile?
Grateful for your support,
An otherwise happy CI teacher,
Leah Turner

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85 thoughts on “It's Not Enough to Teach Well”

  1. We’ve talked about this so much over so many years. Two possible responses to this supervisor are always discussed. One is to educate the person and the other is to ignore the person and just smile. I have come down on both sides of this argument over the years.
    In this situation with Leah, I feel strongly that this person has become an administrator because he is drawn to power and doesn’t want to be in the classroom any more. There are lots of people like that in our school buildings.
    I don’t think that this person is qualified to evaluate Leah. I base that on this statement from Leah:
    …he responded that I was disagreeing with him on all of his suggestions…
    That is a scary thing to read about an administrator. He is a math teacher. He is using things from math that work for him and applying them to languages. It can’t work. The man is an idiot.
    In this case I feel it is in Leah’s best interests to float above this idiot and smile and say yes. That diffuses this unstable time bomb. He is not really wanting to know what is best for kids. He wants power.
    Really, in my view, this is not a battle Leah should pick. By giving in, the guy is placated, life goes on, and by the end of the year, when admins are busy with so many things that far outweigh this situation, it’s all forgotten. That is true UNLESS the guy puts Leah’s job in danger. But he can’t. Leah is happy and if she is happy them so are her students and so this guy just needs to be ignored. He wouldn’t get CI if it bit him in the butt.
    I don’t see this guy even making it as an administrator. He may not. His two dimensional math approach will keep him from building relationships with his teachers and he could easily end up back in the classroom in a few years, boring kids. Because he’s boring, I can tell without even having met him.

  2. I agree that, politically, this is delicate. I would check in with my department chair/lead teacher in the languages department about this, and see to what extent this guy is a real threat. You do need to keep your job, and as Ben says, this principal may not be around forever, and/or may leave you alone once he knows that you will defer to his authority (regardless of how you teach. He’ll probably be too busy with other fights to be keeping tabs on you). Find colleagues who have dealt with this person, or similar situations, and ask for their advice. You could also develop a plan for when this person observes you again, much like Ben has talked about in the past, going into “fake class” mode where you do the kinds of activities that he described/recommended. I’m sorry you have to deal with this person, but I think there are many workarounds that the members of this PLC can help you with.

    1. You can also submit to the principal your own “account” of the class, pointing out all the “rigor” along the way.
      And I think it would be a good time to say that how languages are acquired is a process that is different from other subjects.
      Then, I personally would send him some links to CI research and do so whenever I pleased. He probably won’t read them, so next time bring the articles up with him, asking him what he thinks. Then he’ll leave you alone so as not to enter a conversation again and seem ignorant. Maybe that would work.

      1. The point you make in the second paragraph there is pure gold Eric. I have had success with that over the years. You just bring it up every time you see the person, ask if they read the email attachment you sent as a follow up to the evaluation and get constantly in their face. The best defense is sometimes a good offense.

        1. Seth Minkoff has written a chef d’oeuvre over on the more list – I think it is Digest 9895, 5.1. He gives a great explanation explaining how language is acquired and why WL are not academic subjects. Laurie pointed out this morning that the article can provide good language for us to use when faced with problems like this. If you think he will read it, give him a copy. It debunks the whole idea of rigor. Keep the faith, Leah, your students will be the better for it.
          Best,
          Chill
          PS: Krashen was at FLENJ speaking to WL teachers in NJ. Not a TPRS crowd, but he laid out his evidence and twice, yes twice, he called out TPRS as the best method. The thematic unit and the grammar people got a real message yesterday. Great validation for the Tprs/TCI folks. Our PLC colleagues Liam O’Neill and Scott Grapin each did a session – be sure to see them if they are presenting at iFLT or NTPRS. BTW, both sessions were standing room only. I am encouraged, especially since Liam is a FLENJ Board member and Scott is part of a growing PLC group in north Jersey! Great week-end.

          1. leslie caulfield

            I was at the FLENJ meeting yesterday and Krashen’s Keynote speech made my day – and my year, really. He was wonderful and I was happy to be there with my colleague who also teaches with TPRS (there are only 2 of us at the moment) and my supervisor as well. Hooray! We also attended the Movie Talk session – Noemi Rodriguez was wonderful and the room was packed to overflowing. I was sorry to miss Laurie Clarcq and her Embedded Reading on Friday.

          2. It was very validating for me since my colleagues who are textbook/grammar teachers heard the same message. So glad for all of us.

  3. Thank you everyone. I am feeling better after reading your suggestions. I really don’t want to go into fake mode, but I guess I will if need be.
    I also don’t want to communicate any more than needed with this person, but maybe I will send Roger Harrell articles to him…
    It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around the idea of someone wanting power.
    Your responses are lifting me back up and giving me clarity. Danke.

    1. I’m glad you’re feeling better about this situation, fraulturner. I just recently got a poor evaluation from one assistant principal after getting decent evaluations from other admin. I seriously think that we have admin out there that are commended by their superiors (district chiefs in Chicago Public Schools) for being hard on teachers. “Yeah. This guy isn’t afraid to be direct, push-back, and criticize teachers that need a heavy hand laid down,” is what I imagine them saying. Unfortunately, these people are not educators but opportunists.
      I am brand new to my school so I have to be sure to massage his ego until I get a better footing and gain trust with others in the school. I don’t think it’ll be that hard to put on a show for my opportunistic evaluator. I’ll also try to mention to him about how the class is going more his way when I see him and invite him to come back and observe sometime. I’ll take his suggestions, like students thinking critically about social issues, and spin them into something we might actually do, like talk about a famous rapper and whether that rapper speaks the truth or lies (yes / no questions).
      Also, I’m definitely going to talk to the other admin about how this guy gave me a poor review and that it makes me worry that I should be looking for another job. I think this guy’s peers in admin should know that he’s giving me a poor review, especially since they’ve cycled through a dozen Spanish teachers over the past couple of years!
      Good luck fraulturner! We are warriors!

  4. I just recently finished working three months at a school under a WL supervisor who gave me a very similar evaluation after observing for only 20 minutes and looking at my grade book. The accusation was that my class was not rigorous enough, evidenced by high grades for every kid. I nodded along without agreeing or disagreeing. It’s not “faking it” as much as just acknowledging the reality that the supervisor in question (or colleague, parent, student, whoever) might not ever understand what’s going on in your classroom and might criticize you for the rest of your time together -even if you do present research. Not because the person is stupid, but because they have a preconceived notion of how your teaching should look. Your kids are happy and engaged, and will obviously keep right along learning the language. In my opinion, listening without changing anything works great in this case.

    1. So, you moved on Greg? It’s tragic… for the students more so than for anyone. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out. I bet, in the end, you came out as a stronger teacher because of it and a more equipped leader for us.

      1. Happens to be that one of Greg’s students was in my kitchen the other day ! We’re talking about a poised young man, top student, debate finalist, intellectual kid.
        Me: “So what languages are you taking?”
        Stud.: “French 3 advanced and Spanish.”
        Me: “Oh! You must have had my friend Greg Stout!”
        Stud.: “Mrs. G. if I had been taught consistently by Mr. Stout for a total of one year, I personally believe that I would have learned more in that year than in my cumulative 3 years of Spanish and French. A few kids where crying when Mr. Stout left. If he could only
        come back as a sub. Mrs. G. can you do something about that ?”
        Sean, you are so right to say that it’s tragic.

        1. Catharina, can I tell you how great it was to see you on Saturday at FLENJ. Hope to see you again sooner rather than later!!
          chill

          1. To anyone interested, here is the link to the FLENJ conference (New Jersey) materials.
            https://www.dropbox.com/sh/zax7qn5zzm5vwsk/AADAlus7yJ4Hk77xGtkrKUEma?dl=0
            Notes to myself:
            Laurie: “Use English so you never will have to use it again.”
            “Teach the kids you have- not the kids you wish you had.”
            “Insert Says-Does-Feels-Thinks into every story.”
            Dr. Krashen’s fountain of Youth: Reading a book in L2 while sipping on coffee.
            Kids should read-read-read.
            Stage1:compelling TPRS Stage2: FVR Stage3: Intensive reading
            Get rid of testing and use the money to fight poverty (food/health care/books)
            Don’t test all kids, take *samples*.
            MovieTalk left me wondering if we should call it MovieAsk, like StoryAsking (Jason Fritze). Zero English here! Zero! Not even next to the target structures. All gestures and pictures and negotiating meaning.
            Chinese was too hard for me. I made myself invisible not to be called upon. Nothing beats being a student.
            Wished legacy TPRS teachers had gotten a little more recognition, credit. Maybe I missed it, and wasn’t listening right that moment.
            Thank you Laurie for coming all the way from Rochester (plane, bus, subway, train, snow, ice, you name it) to make us better teachers. New York State has Laurie. New Jersey has Chill. Couldn’t thank you all enough.

          2. And the overall impression at FLENJ from sitting next to non-TPRS practitioners was that many teachers were curious, sitting at the edge of their seats, taking notes frantically, and asking for more information. Great job by the TCI teachers. Wonderful.

      2. Thanks Sean – It was actually just a maternity leave replacement, so there was no hope of it working out. Which actually made me more bold in my choices to just let loose and have fun with the kids, just practicing my CI delivery. Because I knew that the supervisor would likely not try to get rid of me and be in the difficult place of having to find another sub. And yes, I think that aspect did let me come out stronger. I realized during the leave replacement that I felt much more free to just have fun and I was much less concerned with staying on track with covering certain things to make sure the kids were ready for the next year, teacher, level, etc., etc. Knowing that I could try whatever and not have to deal with any long-term effects (because I wouldn’t be there!) allowed me to access the “fun zone” even more than I had up to this point.
        So, in the future I’d like to tap into this mindset even when I am in a continuing position. Because I think the truth is still, even though it might not feel like it, we can always start fresh the next day and experiment as if our jobs are ending in a few weeks. At least that’s how I see it…

        1. I like this, Greg: “I think the truth is still, even though it might not feel like it, we can always start fresh the next day and experiment as if our jobs are ending in a few weeks.”
          There was a time where I thought I’d get these things figured out and be more or less “done” learning to teach, and now I think it’s more like what you said. It’s more fun that way anyhow. And I’m counting on the daily fresh start.

          1. Along the lines of a daily fresh start… the Chinese 2 situation. I was so affected by that bad day last Friday (for those who recall) that I got sick over the weekend, and spent Monday at home recuperating. I’m never ill so this was really unusual (second sick day in 8 years, worst sickness in more than 15 years).
            So getting to rest was good. It gave me time also to let go of some of my fears about being tough enough on those kids and worrying about managing still to be cheerful regardless of their response, even if they kept fighting me. I chose to re-start the 10-minute deal today (first class since I was sick). I very strictly restarted the time whenever a kid used English inappropriately. Happened three times. When it did, I silently stopped the timer (now have one that magnets onto my whiteboard so they can all see the time) and reset it to 10 minutes, then continued. No fuss, no blame, no English. MAJOR, MAJOR difference. And I had to force the cheerfulness a bit, but it was mostly already real. Probably 97% Chinese use as well. Whew.
            I also did a lot more calling on individuals than whole-class responses because I thought that was another element in their use of English and blurting. It seemed also to help.

    2. Sean – So, you are observed by multiple people? Do they all “count”? As in, are they are “formal” ones for the year?
      I agree you should make it known to the other admins. Unless they enjoy cycling through teachers, and we know they don’t! And, I might do that too in my case.
      Greg – If your grade book showed failing grades you’d likely be criticized, too. Does that observation have any impact on your “record”?
      Does anyone know if formal observations could be shared with subsequent potential employers with and/or without our knowledge?
      Best wishes Sean and Greg!

      1. Leah, I’ve bounced around from school to school and I’m impressed by how little people, if at all, potential employers want to look at previous evaluations.

      2. Leah, you said “If your grade book showed failing grades you’d likely be criticized, too.”
        So true!
        And you asked, “Does that observation have any impact on your “record”?”
        Two assistant principals in my last interview asked me what kind of reference my most recent supervisor would give if they contacted her. I was un-defensively honest with them and said I highly doubted she would give me a positive reference, to which I added: she saw me teach for less than twenty minutes, I attempted several times to have dialogue with her about language teaching to no avail, and she told me I was not tenure track material. To which they responded: “She said you were not tenure track material after only seeing you teach twenty minutes?”. Which let me know how interested they were in contacting her for a reference. I then let them know that my supervisor from two jobs ago would be happy to give me a reference if they would like to contact her, which they did, and then offered me the job. I guess in situations like this, we have to be shrewd and advocate for ourselves when dealing with observations/records that are not fair.

    3. Greg…there’s a French opening here in VT at Brattleboro Union High School! Check out SchoolSpring if you’d consider it!

      1. Thanks for the info Angie – I would consider it if I hadn’t just started another job…I’d love to be in beautiful Vermont!

          1. Actually I’m not teaching at all at the moment. At the same time I was interviewing for my next teaching job I found out about a company near where I live that needs someone with a knowledge of French. It’s an IT company, so it’s completely not my element, but I took a job with them because of a chance to maybe relocate to France with the job – which I need to get closer to fluency. If you go into a Burger King and see a digital menu board, they are from this company! This is my fourth week of training – much less stress than teaching but I do miss interacting with my kids. Tomorrow I find out more about when/if the position starts in France…fingers crossed.
            Anyone reading this…please don’t kick me off the blog : ) I’ll still be following intently.
            And I could very well be back in a classroom soon…

          2. Greg I am sure I speak for all of us in wishing you the best of outcomes with this position. I think coming and going from this amazingly challenging job we all do is maybe the best, if we can do it.

          3. Thanks for the affirmation Ben. I think it’s telling that I’ve felt a deep sense of relief when I drove away from school on the last day of my leave replacement. Next time I’m looking for a teaching job, I will choose the school/department very carefully, unless I’m just desperate for any job.

          4. Congratulations, Greg! I’m curious what kind of IT it is and if you had skills in IT already. I hope you get to France!

          5. Thanks Leah! The only IT skills I have are creating a Word doc and PPT…my new job is a learning experience for sure. The company designs software like sales systems and digital menu boards for the restaurant industry.

          6. I’m so glad this thread popped up again. I posted that question and then I couldn’t relocate the thread to find the answer! Best of luck, Greg, and I’m glad you’ll still be a part of the PLC.

  5. There is a great post on the Yahoo morelist by Seth Minkoff – Digest 9895, 5.1. He touches on a lot of what’s being said here.

  6. I am in awe of your resolve, Leah. I’m glad that this moron couldn’t force you down the rabbit hole of self doubt.
    We have all reached consensus that this guy is a total worm. He is looking to establish his authority and expertise by bullying the best teachers in the building. This guy is little more than a shaved ape beating his chest and gnashing his teeth. There is no point in trying to reason with this guy.
    I have still yet to have a productive conversation with an administrator, or traditional teacher, that involved the word “rigor”. This rodeo clown’s feedback was essentially, “You need to rigorously increase the rigorous rigor in your non-rigorous instruction. Have you tried adding rigor? Rigorously adding rigorous rigor rigorously increases the rigorous rigor in more rigorous way.”
    If I were you, I would seriously consider Ben’s fake class idea. Teach your kids how to respond when an evaluator walks in. Come up with a German code word to let them know that it’s fake class time. Show this guy the rigorously differentiated student-centered flipped “lesson” he wants for those 20 minutes, then thank the kids and go back to being the superstar teacher that you really are.

  7. The other thing we do is save student work and any tracked progress. Admin can tell you what to improve, but they can’t argue with results. I give a summative assessment, very CI friendly, and share those results with the Principal.
    Once when my Principal observed, he commented that 2 of my students didn’t say much. And he chose the 2 shiest students. Those kids don’t say anything in any class. Doesn’t mean they are not engaged, comprehending, and acquiring. I know for a fact that both can spit out a decent quick write. And I give them some spoken output leeway in class, what we call respecting the affective filter. Interestingly, when I needed 2 volunteers recently to pilot a new test I was trying, these were my 2 students to volunteer!
    Next time the admin observes make sure he/she is in a place to see what you see: student eyes and expressions.

  8. …once when my Principal observed, he commented that 2 of my students didn’t say much….
    This guy feels threatened in your classroom Eric, where he hasn’t a clue about what is going on. So he does what all admins do – grab uninvolved kids and blame it on you. Pathetic. The principal at East High did the same to me. The key for me was to realize I don’t need the approval of idiots. I don’t know why I would. Why would I? I only worked for 37 years to learn how to teach languages. It would be pretty weak on my part to give this guy any credence. I ask the question again – why would I believe the observations of an idiot? Because they are superior to me? They are not superior to me. When he tells me to teach those two shy kids, I will say, as the butlers and servants at Downton do, “Yes, sir, very good sir.” Then back I go into my classroom and close the door and do what I do. And the guy, in a month, forgot what he said to me, or transfers buildings, or gets fired on the grounds that he is an idiot who can’t get along with teachers, and I’m fine. Bam.

    1. Ben – Good point about “Yes, sir.” and what it can really mean. Not an agreement, but an agreement that yes, I hear what the person says and that’s it.

  9. Send him research. Show him results (in writing). If he won’t read research, he’ll avoid that; he can’t argue with results.
    I would also ask for all of his commentary in email so you can keep it, respond point by point (taking time to think it through), send research links, etc.
    You can also reframe the debate. You can tell the guy “I am excited at the chance for us to discuss how I implement research-based methods in my classroom. I would like to set up a series of meetings where we discuss research, so that when you observe, you can use science-based observations to help improve my practice.” Do a Ben Franklin: make HIM satisfy YOU

  10. ^John Bracey’s comment above on rigor ^
    HA!
    As a side note to this thread, something that I’ve noticed re: rigor vs. difficulty in playing the piano:
    If I’m trying to master a difficult passage and play the passage a dozen times at a rather quick tempo, trying to get every note right, usually when I go to play the same passage the next day, it feels like I’m starting all over and I make lots of mistakes.
    But if I play a difficult passage EXTREMELY slowly only two or three times , paying very close attention to how the passage “feels” in my fingers and listening very closely to how the passage sounds (rigorous), then sleep on it, the next day I can play the passage much more easily, even though it feels like I worked much less hard on it.
    The rigorous way isn’t really easy per se, but it FEELS easier.

    1. I had not thought about it that way before, Greg. Rigor is slow. And slow allows us to be focused. …to be intensive. …to be attentive. …to be thoughtful.
      My drive home in the snowstorm on Sunday was rigorous. Rigor is slower, safer, and more sure.

      1. Tai-chi is rigorous in this way, too. A much higher degree of control because it is slow. Nice analogy between these skills and language. In the past, I’ve used the Karate Kid video clip (both the older movie and the newer one) with middle schoolers to show that the slower reps build up into real-time skills.

          1. Both Karate Kid movies (the 80’s one and the one from a few years ago) work for this. Jaden Smith is the boy in the newer one, with Jackie Chan. Being a Chinese teacher, I used that one once it came out. I had a DVD to show it from but I bet it’s on YouTube.

  11. I so much agree with your point, James – rigor is not exclusive and we must continue to hope that this new idea of what rigor is (slow and focused engagement by all students) might one day become the norm. Thank you to Robert Harrell for continuously over the years focusing our attention back to the US State Department’s definition of rigor, and not to the current idea of rigor as being exclusive to only certain students who have the intellectual capacity. Rigor is not about intellectual power nor is it about social class.

  12. This by Robert is from our Primers:
    Robert Harrell – Advice to an Embattled Teacher/Clarification of Rigor
    I’m sorry to hear you are getting grief from your administrator about rigor. It sounds to me like he attended a meeting and received a one-size-fits-all worksheet. I think you need to educate him (nicely, of course) about what rigor is and what it looks like in a language acquisition classroom.
    As I continue to talk to people – including my students – about rigor, I have expanded a bit on my definition, though the base and core remain the statements provided by the US Department of State. This week I concluded that my students needed a reminder of what the class is about, so I had some discussion with them. When I got to the section on rigor, I began by asking them to define “Academic Rigor” or tell me how they decide if a class is rigorous. Then I gave them my own definition: Academic Rigor means that an educational experience is designed to help students 1) understand knowledge and concepts that are complex or ambiguous and 2) acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.
    Next I shared with them the four elements of rigor that the Department of State gives and one that I have added:
    1. Sustained focus
    2. Depth and integrity of inquiry – paying attention to what is going on until I understand it, can reproduce it, and can explain it in my own words. I clarify if I don’t understand, and I contribute appropriately to the conversation or discussion.
    3. Suspension of premature conclusions – I do not listen to only a few words and then think that I know what is being said. I listen to complete statements and questions and think before trying to formulate a reply.
    4. Constant testing of hypotheses – I try out the language and then listen for feedback. If I used the language correctly, I will get confirmation; if I said something wrong, I should get a re-statement with correct language or other help.
    5. Person Challenge – I do not take the easy way out but am always trying to improve both my understanding and my performance. I do not allow a failure to understand make me give up or be frustrated but strive to clarify and understand.
    I also addressed the issue of mindset, although I didn’t use the term.
    There are two ways of thinking:
    If I think my ability or intelligence is fixed, then I will do everything I can to protect myself
    If I think I can increase my ability and intelligence through challenging myself, I will not see walls but bridges to success
    Perhaps you can have a meeting with your administrator to discuss the concept of rigor. Ask him what his definition of rigor is. If you do a search and look through various websites that discuss rigor, most are careful to distinguish rigor from simply more or harder work. The Department of State website even cites Alfie Kohn. “Academic rigor does not imply harshness or severity. In a recent interview, Alfie Kohn (in O’Neill & Tell, 1999) states, ‘A lot of horrible practices are justified in the name of “rigor” or “challenge.” People talk about “rigorous” but often what they mean is “onerous,” with schools turned into fact factories. This doesn’t help kids become critical, creative thinkers or lifelong learners (p. 20).’” http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/44875.htm

    1. Here are some other thoughts about rigor:
      Teaching a language is not about getting measurable gains on tests, for three identifiable reasons:
      1. Kids process things at different speeds. It doesn’t mean that they can’t learn the language.
      2. Working hard to try to understand is the real work.
      3. We are dealing with a language. It’s an unconscious process. It’s a soup that takes years and years to be ready to serve. Does a gourmet chef dare to pass judgment on the taste of a soup after only fifteen minutes into its preparation when the recipe calls for eight hours before it is ready to taste?

  13. “Sustained focus” is so difficult, especially now, with millions of things vying for our attention. All at once. All the time. And the “busy = status symbol” mentality. This is likely the root of many issues. Just a guess. All the examples y’all gave from music, climbing, tai chi, driving, etc….they all require sustained focus not only for the duration of the practice time, but also sustained over a long period of time. Instantly I think of yoga, of course, when we just cannot be patient enough to let the body adapt over time and sustain our practice, when we just want those (“final product”) arm balances so much that we sacrifice the integrity of the physical and energetic systems that support the posture. And then we blame the posture for our injured wrists and shoulders. Hmmm.
    Sustained focus flies in the face of the “instant results” we all want (“we” don’t really want it, but have been trained / brainwashed into wanting them…but that’s a whole other post). It goes back to the natural cycles that are inherent in life. I have used a plant/ garden example before, but when you try to speed up a natural cycle there are always unintended consequences.
    Sustained focus opens and expands our awareness. We notice more, perceive more when we practice sustained focus. I think someone on here said this: “Speed impresses; slow connects.”

  14. This work really is a practice, as you happily remind us from time to time, jen. It’s a practice. We could teach for 50 years and barely scratch the surface of this work. That is a good thing.
    I would like to ask the group if I am pushing it by saying that when we are in the TL in class we should strive for 99% L2 use from us and 100% L2 or silence from our students. Why is this such a big deal to me?
    Because sustained focus would be the beneficiary of such a policy and the victim of no such policy. Without such a policy, our students will not understand that we don’t want mixing of languages in our classroom and they will behave accordingly.
    This would be akin to our trying to practice yoga in the middle of the main hall of Grand Central Station instead of in a quiet place. Or, in some cases, in the middle of a subway car at rush hour.
    I believe that this work requires us, as in any practice whether it be distance cycling or yoga or the piano or teaching using CI, to put our egos aside and just do the dang practice. For me this means that my kids don’t speak English in my classroom.
    What says the group? Am I off here? Is it not possible? Doesn’t anyone agree with me? Do the students own the house and everything in it? Do they really have that much power, because we give it to them? Throw me a bone here.

    1. Ok, Ben, I’ll reply but then this got really long.
      I will admit now that I kind of freaked out about the first few posts about 100% TL. Turned out that some of it was not knowing fully what you meant, and also flashbacks to others who use that description (Helena Curtain, who then was incomprehensible). Also flashbacks to my own attempts a few years ago to enforce no English, which made me unhappy, stressed, nagging students, punishing them, messing up my relating to them in general. I could not see how to maintain comprehensibility and my own peace and cheerfulness, and yet demand 100% TL in classes. (“Demand” being the way I felt about it.) I see that you are not saying any of those things but I had to work it through and obviously, I still am, and perhaps only me, 3 weeks later.
      So, having begun to think it through better and face some of my classroom realities, I have a few thoughts:
      – What you said, “sustained focus would be the beneficiary of such a policy,” I believe is totally true. This is absolutely worth pursuing. This is the real reason to avoid using English (I think). It is also very counter-cultural as the PLC has discussed. The kids are not used to it, as with other aspects of CI classes like needing to listen and relate to other people.
      – I think this is an advanced skill. You’ve said that, but there are so many transitions and skills as a CI teacher and it can become overwhelming and daunting. Staying in the TL throughout class time, maintaining comprehensibility and personalization for students, and cheerfully keeping students out of English as well, plenty of challenge there.
      – 99% or whatever % TL use is not the master, but the servant of comprehensibility. Comprehensibility doesn’t mean we are feeding students spoken English explanation or translation very often, but it might mean making a decision to say something in English and not feeling like that was a loss if it was a few seconds to clarify meaning. Then go back to the TL and hear it “for real.”
      – I’m preferring to think not in terms of percentage but in terms like this: English use in my classes is very minimal and serves two purposes: For me to use rarely as a pop-up explanation, and for students to use occasionally in response to ‘what does that mean?’ and perhaps if they are asking for clarification of meaning. Maybe two times per class period on the latter, but I think it’s valuable — kids are asking to be sure they understood, or to distinguish similar words, or if indeed a word has a familiar syllable in it, and they don’t all have the Chinese to ask fully in Chinese yet. (Can I teach them? Sure, I’ll put something on the classroom language poster. For now I don’t want to cut off that kind of English use.) I see a difference between that use of English and blurting by teacher or student. One to keep at a minimal level (not as an excuse to go too fast or to neglect clarifying other ways); the other to eliminate with a multi-pronged approach (classroom rules, jGR, 10-minute deal, other approaches?).
      – Numbers make me feel judged. (Hey, it’s a hang-up.) So, I’m going to avoid thinking about this in terms of % if I can still get the really great classroom management (no blurting) and classroom dynamic (sustained focus) without attaching it to a number. I think it’s going to be possible. Better these last 2 days. Every day is new.

  15. Just listened to Angie’s “sound recording” with MovieTalk as if I were a -student-. Angie used zero English for 8 minutes, and it was pleasant to only hear Spanish, to feel immersed in the language with Angie’s beautiful voice. At my level of Spanish it was entirely comprehensible. I could have listened to a lot more without feeling frustrated.This is exactly how I would want to learn Spanish.
    Also watched a 30 minute video of Terry Waltz teaching a beginner 101 Chinese class (one shared on the morelist). As a student I much prefered when Terry stayed in Chinese. I needed to hear the Chinese, not the English. My overall feeling was that with careful diligent circling, establishing meaning of every new word/sound (once might be enough), visuals, gestures, acting, short moments of silence, cognates and familiar nouns I could have stayed engaged with zero spoken English for 30 mn (max). At the end of the clip I aced the quiz, translating from English -into- Chinese. TPRS is so perfect.

  16. Here are the rigor posters that we built together here a few years ago. I have noticed them in a lot of DPS classrooms as I have visited them over recent months. They are on the posters page of the TPRS Resources page of this site. I know the font is gnarly – I can change it.
    These posters exist to get students thinking about what they should be experiencing in class. I consider it a requirement to invite this kind of self-reflection by students, because what we ask students to do in our CI classrooms is so different (occurs in an entirely different part of the brain) than what they are asked to do in their other classes:
    WHAT DOES HARD WORK LOOK LIKE IN THIS CLASS?
    HARD WORK (RIGOR) is when you are actively engaged with the language, because language acquisition only happens when written and spoken messages are actually being understood.
    In this class “hard work” means that ON THE INSIDE you will:
    – Stay focused on the message being delivered.
    – Observe what is happening.
    – Listen with the intent to comprehend.
    – Read with the intent to comprehend.
    ON THE OUTSIDE you will:
    – Respond with body language.
    – Show the teacher when you do not understand.
    – Respond with short answers.
    – Read and show that you understand.
    – Correctly answer most or all of the quiz questions given at the end of class.
    When you are doing rigorous work you will FEEL:
    – Confident.
    – Aware of the stream of the conversation.
    – Like you understand, but you may not feel as if you are learning (but you will be).
    – You don’t feel lost, confused, defeated or frustrated.
    You will KNOW you are learning when:
    – You understand what the teacher says or what you are reading.
    – The language starts to fall out of your mouth in class without you having to think about it too much.
    – The language comes out naturally and makes sense (even with errors).
    – You notice you can write more in the language than you could before.
    – You are not translating from English to the language when you speak or write.
    This is the fourth most utilized poster in my classroom, behind the Classroom Rules, the Word Association Charts, and the jGR poster. It is downloadable at benslavic.com (TPRS Resources) in the same color scheme as the Rules and the jGR poster.

  17. Thank you Ben! This is VERY helpful. This is useful on so many levels, talking to admin., visitors, parents, teaching adult groups, reminding myself of what should be happening in the body/mind of my students.
    Who should I give credit to? Can I say Ben Slavic?

  18. Update: My evaluating admin. just emailed me this afternoon to tell me I am to meet with him in his office Monday morning. The second sentence said to bring a Union Rep. with me if I would like!
    Has anyone else ever been called to such a meeting? Since I was given no information, I don’t know how to prepare, and feel like I am walking into an ambush (with one Union Rep. at my side).
    I tried calling this admin. twice, and and emailed once today to ask what the meeting is about, without a reply.
    I must assume it is in reference to our last meeting, that I first posted about here. From that meeting until now I have had no communication with this person. I did talk to our building Union Rep. once earlier this week, and emailed two concerns to our fac-ad monthly QA (which is supposed to be confidential).
    I feel like I’m being targeted now, and this is probably beyond the realm of this blog.

    1. No it’s not beyond the realm of our group’s capacity to respond, Leah. You will find the support you will need in the next few weeks here, but bring the rep anyway on Monday. And you may want to tell him to bring the parent who is possibly coloring his thinking about your teaching using CI as well. Most administrators would listen to your side, think about it, and either agree or disagree, and push the dialogue along gently. This guy has cruelly got you thinking over the weekend. What kind of person does that? I am looking forward to seeing how the group responds. In the dozen or so similar situations over the past eight years where this kind of thing has happened, it has always been hard for the teacher. BUT you have the research. I would bring stuff from the Primers into the meeting.

      1. The thing is I’ve never even had the chance to explain my teaching method to him, so I don’t think it’s about that. And I don’t know of any parents that would be complaining about me.
        It’s definitely about power, apparently.

  19. I’m a Union rep. My advice– bring a rep. Write down everything he says. If he talks quickly, get him to stop. If he gets out of line, leave and get somebody from the Union office(ie not school) to sit in. If he issues you any directives, get them in official writing (ie an email).
    Unless you are totally solid on your feet and have everything lined ip, I’d avoid agreeing to, or explaining, anything for a day or two. The heat of the moment is the worst time to make a decision. Good luck

    1. Chris reminds us of our Weingarten Rights:
      “If this discussion could in any way lad to my being disciplined or terminated or cause an effect on my personal working conditions, I respectfully request that my Union Representative be present at this meeting. Without representation present, I choose not to participate in this discussion.”

      1. I agree. I have been in this situation several times. Each time it was not actually something I had done, it was an issue that the admin. had. Stay as calm as possible. Bring your rep. Do not go if the rep is not available….even if it seems the “nice” thing to do. This is not the time to be nice. This is the time to be prepared and calm.
        This is not meant to scare you. This is just to give you information to help you. Administrators have taken courses in how to intimidate/control employees. They have weekly/monthly meetings where they share with each other how to get what they want. (at least that is what my admin. friends have confessed to me). Don’t let them take advantage of your kind nature or optimistic outlook.
        Be prepared to listen ONLY. Resist the urge to try to understand, rebut, rephrase or ask questions. If you need to say anything, say, “I have heard what you have said. I, or my union representative, will be in touch.” 90 % of these meetings are to gauge your reaction and to see if they can get you to say something out loud that they can use against you later.
        When the meeting is over, go FAR AWAY TO A QUIET PLACE IN THE BUILDING WITH NO OBSERVERS. There you can debrief w/ your union rep. Put in writing immediately what was said by the admin. Breathe. Deeply.
        I am very emotional. I always cry after these meetings. Sometimes because of what was said, sometimes because the anticipation was so stressful that I have to let the emotions out. I try to find a very trusted colleague who will help cover my next class in case I need a few minutes to compose myself. I try to prepare a lesson in advance that students can work on without me in case I can’t lead something more energetic.
        Remember, although this is directed AT you, it is most probably not ABOUT you.
        Keep us posted.
        We are here for you.
        with love,
        Laurie

        1. …administrators have taken courses in how to intimidate/control employees….
          I once met, by chance, a videographer who was hired by Denver Public Schools to videotape teachers who had burnt out to find out what it was that caused them to burn out. She said it was like studying lab rats and incredibly emotional to watch these teachers talk about what they had been through. Had the district looked at the log in their own eye, maybe they wouldn’t have had so many burned out teachers in the first place. And this was before the current climate of data collection and de-humanization of both teachers and students.
          Yes, I believe that folks at the district level do as you say here, Laurie:
          …they share with each other how to get what they want….

          1. I’m so glad that I checked this blog before going to bed. I am going through a similar situation right now. My psychopathic department chair told me, on Friday afternoon, that I need to stop being friendly to kids during the weeks before and after the language selection period at our school. I was also told that I needed to start giving homework because it was making kids want to take my class. I emailed him a link to google doc containing the research on homework along with a bunch of Robert Harrell stuff on “rigor”, and cc’d my principal and assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum.
            He replied with a venom filled diatribe about how I was destroying collegiality in the department because my traditional colleagues think that I have changed my practices exclusively to bolster enrollment numbers.
            I immediately email my union rep and was uncertain as to whether I should respond to this guy via email or in person without a union rep present. The advice from you all could not have come at a better time.
            Good luck, Leah! You are not alone. Apparently it is a rite of passage for all CI teachers to be gaslighted by dirtbag department administrators.

          2. …my traditional colleagues think that I have changed my practices exclusively to bolster enrollment numbers….
            You know we talk about a lot of stuff here, but something like this gem has never crossed where I’ve been sitting at the table. I’m so glad it did, because this is one for the ages. It’s one of the most bizarre things I ever read on this blog in eight years. It’s extreme. That poor person!
            Sorry, I just have to paste this sentence again:
            …my traditional colleagues think that I have changed my practices exclusively to bolster enrollment numbers….
            Wow.
            For those unaware of the back story on John’s situation:
            https://benslavic.com/blog/report-from-the-field-john-bracey/
            https://benslavic.com/blog/response-to-john-braceys-report/

          3. You know I have been a nervous wreck all weekend, Ben. Your comment there just made me laugh and smile for the first time in days. I needed a reminder that I’m not the crazy one in this situation. Ha ha!
            Anyone looking for a Latin teacher?

          4. This is some twisted *&!% you’re going through, John. I had an assistant principal tell me the other week that gestures don’t work… and that I should be teaching economic issues in Hispanic countries in my Spanish 1 & 2 classes.

          5. We New Englanders have a reputation for 1) being cold and 2) saying what we think, regardless of whether we do so [think] or not.
            Look forward to seeing you this Friday, John.

          6. Omg… you need to stop being so friendly! God forbid your colleagues try being friendly!

          7. I was looking back at your “report from the field” and was reminded that you teach middle school. To me, this makes it even more crazy that your colleagues are attacking you for too much friendliness and not enough homework.

          8. And one option John has is that he has the ability to physically flatten these colleagues if it struck his fancy. That might wake them up. Sometimes you get tired of playing nice. Just kidding. Kind of.

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