Untargeted – 5

I deeply feel that we in teaching are in the midst of a profound shift in education from the mind (the science of teaching) to the heart (the art of teaching). We are learning, and quickly now, to rely more on the web of connection that exists among all of us in the classroom than on anything else.

Circling is a good example, perhaps, of how we often become too focused on the method, the science of TPRS. We think that there is a science of circling when, in truth, I have found it to be a highly intuitive process. I think we should focus more on the web of goodness even more than circling.

Of course, we must learn the basic order of questions in circling, and I strongly agree that we must learn how to alternately circle subject, verb and object. But when it comes down to it, after we have taken off our circling training wheels, we must rely on our intuition and our sense of curiosity and discovery and wanting to have fun.

If we are in heart connection with our students, the circling will naturally be right, because the heart is more powerful than the mind, which even Blaise Pascal, a supreme intellect, knew. Then we won’t need to make circling into some kind of herculean mental task. Some of us turn the method into a veritable tar baby. If the reader can accept the word herculean and tar baby in the same paragraph….

So if we can somehow forget about the pacing guides (see the “About TPRS” and “Thoughts on Pacing Guides” links on this site), and when we are teaching just open up to the kids and their treasure trove of magical, striking, and often unbelievable ideas, the love so generated in fun and pleasant discussion will dictate our classes flawlessly. This method gives us a chance to be happy in our classrooms and we should go for it not just for ourselves but for our students.

I like to think that we can actually bring happiness into our classroom, echoing Stendhal’s definition of happiness that I love to read and reread and quote and requote because it, to me, forms the essence of all storytelling. Stendhal’s definition of happiness is:

Un bavardage sans détour et la présence de ceux qu’on aime…/
An endless conversation and the presence of those one loves…

We don’t need ultra fancy stories to get us high batting averages because of all the home runs we hit. We just need the capacity to relax and enjoy the kids, which is a capacity of the heart.



15 thoughts on “Untargeted – 5”

  1. This makes me think of what Bill Van Patten was recently saying on his podcaast Tea with BVP. When asked about high frequency words, or authentic texts, his response was always rooted in the particular classroom culture: What is a high frequency word? it is any word that helps your students to communicate who they are and learn about each other. What is an authentic text? it is any text that authentically taps into or touches upon the real experiences of the students in your classroom. This is entirely subjective, in that it is focused on the subjects in the classroom community. So when we think about target vocab and structures, perhaps the word “target” is not a problem, as long as what we are targeting is helping us promote real communication.

  2. After reading the 5-part series, Ben, I wonder how you will feel coaching teachers who want (2) targeted stories in your future workshops. Is that something you are OK with? Will you gently bring them along, but also suggest that they try giving (1) untargeted stories a try?

    1. I think my fifteen years of doing targeted stories will make me an efficient coach with targets Lance. All my war rooms in past conferences were about targeted input. Indeed, I am promoting both targeted and untargeted stories when I include Anne Matava’s scripts as an ideal way to teach using CI. One does not exclude the other. Both are good. Both work. For me, one works better than the other. Does that make it true for everyone?

  3. I’m so eager to learn how to up my game in the critical realm of student to student bullying, ostracizing and all that constant negativity. The social dynamics kill any attempt at true CI because the kids are too afraid to respond yes/no in the target language. They visibly and invisibly resist being in the community. They want to be invisible and not provide fodder for taunting and being made fun of.

    I realized very late in the semester exactly why this was happening. I knew the kids understood the ?s, or at least I was pretty sure they did, but they always responded in English, even with the one-word responses. I’m a slow processor. I’m old. I’m still in recovery from the fall where I felt repeatedly run over by a truck. Etc. So I did not come to this obvious conclusion until a few weeks ago. Hit me upside the head! OH! That is why nobody volunteered for “Star of the day.” That is why we could never get a story off the ground! That is why we couldn’t even talk about prom, graduation, and all the stuff they talk amongst themselves about. Side note: I’ve always been fairly successful at picking up on what they’re talking about as they come into the room, and making that the “lesson plan,” and the kids have fun thinking “they got me off topic and we wasted the whole class talking about the Patriots game.” Did not work at all with this group. That is why nothing worked in the older group. I don’t even know what we did all semester. Thank goodness it’s over. Kids in their course reflections requested all of the things I tried to do: personalize, have a routine where we start off complimenting someone in Spanish, get everyone involved, get to know each other better, class bonding…??? Hm. I wonder what they thought we were doing? Those are the exact things I tried each day. Hm. Very puzzling.

    The hard core (survival?) clinging to the social roles is the single obstacle / elephant in the room that kids are “screaming inside at me” about. I know this, because I failed at it. One group all year had a true community feel to it. I gave them an award for it at Thursday’s award assembly. Yes, I awarded 18 kids for this when most of the other awards went to the same top 5 kids. Were they perfect? No, but they genuinely tried to listen to one another, were easily redirected and respectful. Whether or not I am reinstated by the budget gods, I wanted to send a strong message that my classes prioritize the community. Even though I pretty much sucked at it, except for with this one group. Maybe this was weak / too little too late, but I did the best I could this year and will recharge for whatever is next!

    One more day of school! OY!

  4. Jen who were the one or two dominant resistant kids in that class? Look there. They hold the key. That is why the first two weeks of school are so important. We have to ferret those few (usually passively defiant) kids out, find them then. The problem is that they wait a week or two to show their ugly heads. They are figuring you out, how to dominate you. You start out with good will, of course. They wait, figuring out a plan of attack. When it comes, either passively or actively, you must be ready with a psychic hammer twice the size of their bodies. They won in that class. It happens to all of us. I can remember two kids, Mildred in Myrtle Beach, SC HS and Jaime at Abraham Lincoln HS in Denver, who were dangerous for me, for my mental health and both almost destroyed me. That is not hyperbole. We must act as soon as we know who they are. We cannot dawdle. have to tell the admins who must transfer them out. If they don’t, you risk having a hell class like that. So slam them when they make their move. What does that involve? The “Classroom Rules smile” first, of course, as we have so often discussed here, but mainly parent calls and even visits to homes. And quick eye contact with them in class which shows who the dominant person is in the classroom, repeatedly. The other kids see everything in those moments, are rooting for us, wanting the kid slammed and we usually fail the other kids, who can say nothing. THAT is the business of the first few weeks of school. THAT is why I always do the first Circling with Balls card with the biggest joker in the class, working with him one on one in front of the class, holding that football or whatever (these kids are often athletes) and doing it like I show on that one YT clip on CWB. No pep talks with the kid after class – that never works. Those children, those few who have destroyed teachers in other classrooms, weak teachers and so decide that since they got away with it elsewhere then they might as well try it in our classrooms, must be neutralized immediately when they make their move. THAT is the work of the first few weeks. All else (teaching the language) pales in comparison to neutralizing the negative energy that we must all deal with now, as the adults in our society seem to have stopped functioning as adults, but rather as enablers.

    1. Thank you Ben for the recap of how you deal with defiance in the class. I’m glad that I am at a gifted school. Where I need growth is in holding kids accountable with jGR.

    2. …visiting the homes of those dominant resistance kids, the tanzmanian devils, is a great idea. I’d rather take the time to do that right away than fight those kids all year.

    3. “as the adults in our society seem to have stopped functioning as adults, but rather as enablers.”

      Wow, Ben, I think this is one very important observation. To other cultures and subcultures in our society, mainstream America does “enable” power struggles with children. This happens significantly less with my ESL students.

      That’s not to say that all children in ESL are without hang-ups, but it’s important to look to their cultural and societal norms to break down kids’ walls. So I can understand why the little girl who grew up in a police state breaks down and cries every time the resource officer talks to him. It helps me understand why some of the boys in my room have a very hard time accepting a female as an authority figure.

      It’s all important information, and I love that Ben’s advocating a very active, strategic approach to rehabilitating kids. Instead of “oh, that’s a bad kid” it’s “Oh, I have a lot of work to do to reach them.”

  5. Thank you. I was totally unprepared for everything involved being new in a building / district, especially in a community “notorious” for its generational poverty and all that goes along with it.

    I just went through all my rosters after reading this post. I listed all the “key people.” There are so many! And that is with me now knowing them. As a new person I had no idea and it felt like there were 20 per class.

    IN retrospect I can identify an average of 3 per class, with some classes having 6 or 9. This is a large number of contenders. If I am back I will be on high alert with my phone list handy. And a sincere hope that the new principal will create a better support plan than the one I had this year (which was literally zero, as in nobody could be removed from class). Now that I’m familiar in the school and kids WANT to be in my classroom I am planning to remove them myself through some sort of “tryout” period similar to sports teams. I will write out the qualifications for this and they will be sent home to be signed. Since L2 classes are technically optional then I am claiming my right to remove those who are not willing to meet the qualifications. I have no idea if I “can do this” but I will try it and see what happens. In the upper level class, there was definitely a contingent of folks who were there for a credit and who had no interest or intention to learn. When I tried to kick them out I got fed the “it looks good for college” line not only from the student but from guidance and so there was no support for the other kids’ experience.

    Next year I need to redouble my effort to educate the adminZ and guidance. These kids should be directed to get their FL credit online where they won’t have to communicate with anyone.

    1. …since L2 classes are technically optional then I am claiming my right to remove those who are not willing to meet the qualifications…..

      Make sure you can do this with admin. If they won’t support you, resign before the year begins. This is what I would do. I would start looking for another job now. NO teacher should be in a building where that many oppositionally defiant kids run the place. It is what has happened and yes it is all tied to poverty.

    2. …next year I need to redouble my effort to educate the adminZ and guidance….

      This won’t work. They won’t hear you. This is an emergency. You can’t do two such years. My vote is get out into another building now. You have three languages. Use them.

    3. jen, you are not sitting back at your desk reading a newspaper as the kids work on a worksheet. Your admin and your deans know this. They see how much you are working on building community and reaching your students. After this past year of seeing this, they should support you by suggesting that if you are having difficulty with a kid, they will help you by talking with that kid themselves. If they are not making these suggests, or asking you how they can help you by now, I wonder if they ever will. I hate to say that. Maybe they have given up on Spanish classes as being anything of worth for their students based on the history of a bad learning environment in the Spanish classroom before you arrived. I don’t know.

      1. Yeah, I know. There are bigger brushfires (forest fires) in this community. Technically I am unemployed, as there won’t be a budget agreement until late July.

        There will be a new principal at this school. From what I hear, the 3 candidates are people the current staff seems excited about since the outgoing guy, according to them (and confirmed by my own experience) was not a good leader.

        I am not making other plans to sign with another district. Yet. My husband let go of his job bc of the stress, so we have some family household decisions to make.

        For some odd reason I would like to return to this school, but am not clinging to that as an outcome. I’m moving forward with plans to resume my adult classes and will check for school jobs in late July if I need to. Or, heck, who knows, we may find something completely different, move, …???? There is a k-6 position (one that I applied for last year) but the commute is 1 hour. Would be fun, but I am being super picky about my life style these days. Just don’t want to commute that long. I’ll find something. Is it weird that I’m not in panic mode even though our paychecks and benefits end in 2 weeks?

        Stay tuned.

        1. Not weird at all. I’m glad you’re not panicking. You shouldn’t have to. Jobs will pop up come August, even if late August. Relax and enjoy the summer, jen!

  6. In his book, Learning by Heart, Roland Barth wrote, “To put it simply: in addition to a brain, we have a heart–and we want to put it to use in promoting young people’s learning. Exclude this vital organ from our work, and you get compliance at best. Obedience may make superordinates feel influential, but it won’t go very far toward making school educators feel influential, and won’t therefore, go very far toward improving our schools.”

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