Fake Classes

Most teachers, really unfortunately, just soldier on until they collapse at the end of the year, when that is completely unnecessary. When I don’t want to teach, I teach what I call fake classes:

FVR – 10 min.
Reading Class – here we just read to them in L1 while they follow along in the text. We may spin discussions in L2 as we usually do, if we have the energy* – 15 min.**
Break, call roll, texting time – 5 min.
Dictée – 15 min.

Now, this looks like a real class, but consider that the only real actual work you are doing is during the second part, the reading part, when you may  spin into L2 to circle a few questions about the text.

For the rest of it, it can hardly be said to be any work to stand there and read to the our wonderfully attentive charges in English during the reading part, nor is it any work to do a dictée*** as long as you are strict about the rules as per the description of dictée on the workshop section of this site.

(The material for the dictée should be taken from the reading, to make it look like some kind of thought went into planning the lesson.)

The beautiful part is that, if you don’t spin any discussion during the second (reading) part of class, then you are teaching a 100% fake class, in which there is no aural CI being delivered and yet, unlike the fake grammar/computer based classes of the past and present, the students are actually learning something during our fake classes.

What could be more perfect for this time of year, when everyone’s energy is so low? At Abraham Lincoln High School, we have nine teaching days until our spring break, and I will be doing fake classes on each of those nine days. It is a form of survival because in teaching there are times (like now) when you feel as if you just can’t go on.

Just one thing to add:

The best Movie Reading occurs when one thing – and this is something that I don’t believe has been discussed anywhere in the TPRS community – is present in our voices when we read to our kids. When we do this kind of reading, when we try to make it into a movie in our students’ minds, we absolutely must read with love in our voices. 

It sounds odd to say that in what we view as an academic setting, but schools are no more academic settings than machine shops or restaurants. All places are really just places where we can practice being loving and sharing a sense of peace and happiness with others. Especially children. 

Krashen and Ray have shown that language instruction is not and has never been an academic, merely intellectual thing. Language instruction has always and must always involve the heart. The same feeling that we convey to the kids during Kindergarten Day is what we want to convey when we read to our students in Movie Reading. 

We must read to them with love, that’s all I can say about it. If we read novels to them in a robotic way, none of this will work.

People always complain about how shitty Blaine’s novels are. Stop it. Just use Movie Reading to make it enjoyable for the kids to listen. Read to them with a relaxed, permission giving, softness. Read to them with love. Give the characters in the novel a bit of personality, but not too much (let the kids add their own internal definition of character as well).

The feeling of relaxed enjoyment of Movie Reading, along with the Calming Music done during FVR, will cause the kids to forget how bad the novels are (criticisms and judgement are functions of the conscious mind and we teach our kids to be that way all the time in schools) and they will have a different experience of the novel.

Understand what reading lovingly means. It just means reading with a sense of respect for life. This can be conveyed, even in this world. 

* this is the only real teaching we do in fake classes and it is optional.
** this part can be reduced to 5 or 10 minutes, because extra time is always needed at the end of class during dictée.
*** I have spoken many times on this site about dictée as the “great bail out move of all time” when you really need to just get to the end of the period any way, any how.



22 thoughts on “Fake Classes”

  1. Thanks, Ben, for reminding us, yet again, that we have to protect ourselves by devising coping strategies, ways to prevent burn-out. Too many great teachers end up burning out because they take it all on, they see themselves as martyrs, even though the the work they do does not necessarily benefit their students. We have trained ourselves to think we must be giving 100% effort all the time, when few other professions require workers to be present during so much of the work day. Perhaps this is the vestiges of our 4%er, overachiever training we received as successful students.

    This is also why it is so important that the blog remain private. From the outside, this kind of discussion would probably become fodder for those who argue that we are lazy and deserve the low pay and disrespect that many teachers receive. We need a safe place to work out the nuts and bolts of what makes teachers successful and effective in the long term.

    1. “We have trained ourselves to think we must be giving 100% effort all the time, when few other professions require workers to be present during so much of the work day. ”

      YES. I was just laughing to myself about this today: we are in the midst of state testing and I was thinking about how much easier my mornings are when “all I have to do” is proctor a test. Of course, it’s what most people would call “work”: getting up before dawn, performing a task, etc. And the afternoons are rough because the kids are completely wiped out and stressed. But not having to command a room… it feels close to vacation! This post reminds me that learning can still happen without my having to drain every last drop of my inner resources!

  2. Genius! And Kate, you know it all of a sudden spring has sprung in our part of the world. Seventy degree temperatures, standardized testing, end of the marking period have everyone ready for a break!

  3. Yes! But with it’s usual wisdom the State has now decreed that the testing will be the week immediately following Spring Break. I don’t get who is in the State DOE? What is their purpose with such inane demands? I know these departments must have some teacher input. For weeks now the drill and fill has been going on in core classes despite our best efforts at saying we don’t teach to to the test. And now when the students are filled with the thought processes, formulas and are ready, we are going to break off for some very needed rest rather than dumping our brains onto the scattered little bubbles. This testing has become so high staked.

    I will be grateful for the revolution in education when it actually comes because change is going to come.

    1. I don’t think that time will be coming very soon, I’m only 26 and I wonder if it will even happen in my lifetime. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Most states are pushing MORE testing than less. Although a lot of teachers know this is wrong, society doesn’t respect the opinions of teachers. The policy makers want to push for more testing and more charter schools, because they apparently do better at “educating kids”, aka, raising test scores. However, it’s interesting because many charter school here in Ohio are only hiring FL teachers familiar with TPRS.

      1. “Charter Schools” read–for profit schools. My school is a charter but we are a non-profit. We were started by parents and they make up 1/2 the Board. The push is for accountability on the bottom line–a business model by the legislatures made up of business people for the most part or career politicians. There lies our problem. The legislatures “acting for the people” refuse to acknowledge or respect the “workers–i.e. teachers” regarding what is really best practices. (And there are some BIG names behind the for-profit charter school push–The BUSH brothers are among the most active because they own a lot of the technology (book companies stock).

        charter schools are no better or less better at educating children. It is the teachers standing in the middle of the classroom teaching that makes the successful climate for students to excell. Often though charter schools can be smaller and we know that a smaller school is often better than a larger for students not to go unnoticed.

        We have to move away from factory mentality in our schools to seeing people (parents, students, and school staff) as community members–individuals engaged in trying to educate our future. We have to move to teaching thinking skills(–how would I say that with the knowledge I have-)rather than teaching test skills (–change the y to an i and add es). We have dumbed ourselves down through seeking Excellence in the form of bubbling in answers rather than accessing problem solving in the form of grappling with challenges.

  4. I must admit that I started THE VERY FIRST CHAPTER of MY VERY FIRST NOVEL with my 6th graders (in their 3rd year of French) yesterday (_Le Vol des oiseaux_). I was so skeptical about the idea of “I read in L1 while they follow along in the book,” but it was great–everyone except one kid in one class was actively engaged. I must admit that we did do a couple of comprehension questions in French afterwards, but they were so excited to be able to give little one or two word answers based on vocab…it was a lot of fun, and when they realized that they had “kind of” read a chapter of a novel in French, they were so proud! (I did have a girl say to me the other day, while holding one of those small, white, square “Little Miss ______” books in French, “How am I supposed to read a novel when I can’t even understand this book?” I think she was pleasantly surprised.) And the best part of the class? I sat on my ass the whole time!! It was so liberating….

    1. Cool. Thanks for posting this up close and personal account! I am excited to start this process. Your post is really encouraging 🙂

  5. Good. Now:

    1. slow down when you read in L1. Make it painfully slow for you, then they will be able to follow along even better than in yesterday’s class.
    2. Every time you sense a lull in their focus, that means that they need to go into another part of their brains. So give them that break in the form of little easy yes/no questions about the text you just read like youi did yesterday. This is very much like doing a story – the only difference is that it is visual CI (it will naturally lead to writing) and not auditory CI, as in stories (which will naturally lead to speaking).
    3. when that naturally dies down, go immediately to a dictee, even if is only one sentence. Have them give that to you as an exit ticket. Now is the time to slap them on the back as they leave, because you can’t believe how well they can write!

    The above is a highly motivating way to teach. And, as Susie says, “nothing motivates like success!”

    1. Ben, for many years I used films as a way of making my classes more interesting for my students. Not just sitting and watching, but studying them scene by scene. Since I discovered TPRS, I’ve continued to use certain films, the ones that I know will work, but my technique has been evolving, and I recently realized that what I do is very much like reading a novel. I use the English subtitles so the kids are hearing and reading the same thing, it’s simultaneous visual and auditory CI, and we translate every phrase. They do it if it’s easy, and when there’s a pause because it’s too difficult, I step in and do it. When it’s interesting, we talk about what’s happening, what the characters are thinking, what’s going to happen next, etc. When it’s appropriate we work in some PQA. After each important scene, I give them a reading which I’ve prepared which is a summary of the action and when we read it together, they know almost all the vocabulary already, because they saw it in the subtitles. I’ve started making these summaries into embedded readings, and I really feel that the kids are absorbing it like sponges. After all, few things are as compelling as a good film.

      1. This was written in March. Since then, Jody debunked this convincingly. We do that. We think of stuff, try it, and dump it or keep it. This got dumped. A lot of threads followed this into the spring and summer. Group choral translation into L1 – good. Reading the text to them in L1 while they read silently – not good.

        1. Thanks, Ben for the reply. But, I’m still not clear on what L1 and L2 are…. and if L1 is English, why would we do that, in any fashion? Merci d’avance (thanks in advance).

  6. I really can’t wait to try this! And I REALLY need something like this in my classes right now…I need to keep my flailing down to a minimum….ahhhh! It’s so great that we’re all in it together for the genesis, to compare notes. This is the best blog since, I dunno, maybe Nutella!

  7. Here is what I think happens….IF the reading is slow enough the English ceases to be “English.” It becomes the “movie in the mind” that students need as they read.

    It doesn’t work if they haven’t had a ton of aural CI first. They need a foundation, a sub-floor and several layers of padding and then the written language can be a beautiful carpet over the top…. Susie uses that image and I just love it.

    It also must be at just the right level…so that what the students are doing is “recognizing” the Spanish that they know…except for an occasional structure/expression so that they have a few “ahas” from time to time.

    If this were the only way students saw/heard the language, it might not be very effective….but as a layer in the process….I’ve had a lot of success with it.

    with love,

    1. That is a key point right there, Laurie. Thank you. So if a person tries to do this kind of dual language L1/L2 reading and it doesn’t work then we know why – we need more auditory input to get those layers of padding under the written language. And that really is a perfect image.

      Notice also, most importantly, that this is my students’ first attempt at a novel (Pauvre Anne) this year, and we didn’t start it until two weeks ago, in favor of massive stories from November (after massive PQA from August). I knew that it was best that I trust my intuition on not trying to slam in four novels in the first year.

      One other important point here is that all the RT, all the spinning and discussing, all of that stuff that we have labeled as important when working with a novel, doesn’t do nearly as good a job in creating the movie in the mind as this simple dual language process. Just sayin’.

  8. Tried this “officially” for the first time today. WOW! I’m finally into a serious routine with the FVR and the 2nd movement baroque music. Today I saw with my own eyes the calming effect. One student with attention issues happily read a cute kids’ book, had a question to ask me (showing he was focusing the book), and at one point just before we stopped, murmured under his breath: “this music is so calming.” I have not talked about the calming. Not that I’m trying to hide it; I just never made a big intro to the music. In fact, when I started playing it I think the only thing I said was “we’ll read until the music ends.” I just play an adagio movement that lasts between 5-10 mins. It sure beats the annoying ticking kitchen timer! Plus I can focus on what I’m reading because I don’t have to keep track of time!

    Then I tried the new novel-reading process, reading slowly in L1 while they read L2. I took a few minutes to explain the process since it was new. Told them it was important that they read with their eyes and follow along on the page. OH. MY. They were instantly absorbed by the story! We read a few pages. I think 3-4. Spun a bit of discussion in L2 and it was as if we were just chatting in English! The thing that blew me away was that at one point I accidentally asked a really convoluted question. I can’t remember what it was. As I was asking it, I thought to myself “oh geez, that was way too fast, and I need to break this down into 3 different questions,” when without missing a beat, everyone answered it!

    We debriefed the process too. I didn’t even initiate it! One of the students who usually has a hard time paying attention started the discussion by saying: “I like reading that way. It was so much easier to understand.” A couple others chimed in saying how they got right into the action of the story, and how the new words they saw on the page flowed right into the story without taking their attention away from what was happening. I am still almost stupefied at how fluid the transition was from the reading to the circling in L2, and how easily the kids could “chat” about the story (“chat” meaning provide instant answers to my questions with no thinking). This was a level 1-2 class (“Spanish 2” but first year of CI) with two slow processors, one of whom has clinical anxiety issues, neither of whom you would identify as a slow processor if you saw them in this class. 🙂 🙂 🙂 The student with anxiety has been thriving all year in here, because um…we hang out and make up stories in Spanish and have fun.

    Oh, and unrelated to the fake class…we had a visitor last week in French 1. He is a level 3 student at another school and he was visiting with his cousin, so he came to my class. He happened to be there on the day we were about to start a story with the “was bored” Matava script. It was fabulous! He jumped right into the process, volunteered to be the artist and everything. When I wrote up the structures he was amazed because “we didn’t learn passe compose / imparfait until this year.” He was definitely kept on his toes, which caused my level 1 students to feel like “wow, he is in level 3 and we are just as good as he is!” or something like that. This got reported to me unsolicited through a colleague (oh, and former student!) who is interviewing students about our program as part of the reaccreditation process. She pulled me aside so excited to share this info that just emerged organically from the kids!

  9. …at one point I accidentally asked a really convoluted question. I can’t remember what it was. As I was asking it, I thought to myself “oh geez, that was way too fast, and I need to break this down into 3 different questions,” when without missing a beat, everyone answered it!….

    That describes what CI is. It’s a bunch of sounds, like the particular arrangement of words in this sentence that I am writing here, that, when taken as a whole together or in chunks, makes sense and we don’t really know why.

    That is what I think CI is anyway. It is an unconscious process. The reason the kids understood the big fat chunks of sound in that big sentence is bc you did such a good job of getting reps on the pieces of that big sentence over the year, good enough, in fact, that the unconscious faculties of each of those kids lit up their deep circuits and the magical thing that we call acquisition happened.

    You set up this victory with your determination, since St. Louis, to sow the seeds into the fertile soil of the deeper mind, and it worked. Your students had acquired the words and you spoke them in new patterning. This is key – you didn’t meddle with God’s design of how human beings acquire language and so the original design kicked in and they understood. What else could explain how they understood that sentence? Your strict insistence that they memorize and conjugate verbs?

    When we break the sentence down into a conscious analytical process like when we do verb drills, and give points to kids who spell best, and all that like people used to do, and once you pull the instructional time back into L1 and that gnarly and ineffective way of using the conscious mind to merely speak ABOUT the L2, you basically join the legions of teachers who think that language learning is a conscious process, and who don’t trust.

    Sorry about the run ons. I got excited.

    Oh and that student with anxiety issues everywhere but in your classroom? You are appealing to a very pure part of that child’s mind, a place where the analytical competitive memorizational concrete sequential push me pull you judgemental energy, so common in most school classrooms, is just not there. How nice. What a relief. It’s a relief to read it. This is a good day.

  10. I did a new take on a fake class and it worked pretty well. I know it goes against the basics of CI but it just kind of happened. I started class with a dictation. After corrections, I did a short circling and then had the students do a 10 minute free write. After the free write I had the students trade papers for a reading period. I told them to read without comment, pretend that they are by themselves free of interruption. After a few minutes I had them trade the paper they were reading with someone different. I did 4 rounds of this. At the end of class I allowed them to comment on the papers they read which was really a positive reinforcement because they commented on how each writing was funny and interesting. I guess I was lucky but I’ll take it.

    1. Nonjudgemental peer review of each other’s writing. A nice option, even if it is output, to:

      a. get kids to know and respect each other in class.
      b. get administrators to see that we do peer group work that actually works.
      c. motivate kids to know that they can indeed produce something in another language that can be read and understood by another person (huge).

      With your permission I will publish this as a separate blog entry after the EERP hiatus. It is a nice option to basic fake classes.

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