Jen’s Fast Processor

Jen sent this:

Ok, so I just had the kids do a bit of reflection today. Two out of ten students in a level 2 French class actually requested some “book learning.” I don’t have their responses handy or I’d quote them, but I’ll paraphrase below. My question is how do I respond to these requests. When I do feedback like this, I usually respond to each person in an individual conference so that we can talk face to face. I just have never had a specific request to use the textbook. I sure as hell am NOT going to use a textbook, but maybe they can if they want to at home?

Here is pretty much what they said:

1) I feel like we’ve been doing/reading the same kinds of stories. We don’t know very many words. We use the same words over and over. We need to do some more “book learning” for awhile to learn some new vocabulary and then we can go back to the “non-book learning.”

This is from a 4% er high achieving pusher. She is a quick processor on paper (reading) but not out loud. I noticed a big improvement in her listening skills from last year to this year, in that last year she had that deer in the headlights look if you asked her a question and she couldn’t read something off a paper. Now she’s confident and can respond to any question I ask. With nothing on the desk! I can see her point with regards to the reading, so my instinct is to guide her toward more complex/challenging reading for her free reading time. I know that the in-class PQA and stories is EXACTLY what she (and everyone else) needs, so I’m not willing to budge on that. I know I need to slow down even more, so that I can add in those little complexities to engage the faster processors (but she really is not one of the faster ones out loud, only on paper, so she may have a slightly warped perspective on the whole thing). I have another girl (who is a delight and not cranky and uptight like this one 😉 who is a freaking natural polyglot…so I am already aware that I can begin to engage her on another level. Kids are funny. This polyglot girl (who is also in my level 4 Spanish, so we go back to back first en francais and then as we walk upstairs speaking French we switch into Frespanyol, and then walk into the Spanish room speaking Spanish FUNNNN!!!!)… would never think of complaining; instead she’s more likely to try to write a poem or learn a song and sing it out loud. Love love love her energy!

My response: what I would do with that child’s request is say no. That’s it. I wouldn’t waste my time. That knocks the ball back into her court. So she goes and tells mom or dad (probably mom) that you said no and then mom or dad has to make a decision – do they take this to the principal or not? That is what you want. Now you can go in to that meeting (I have had a few good ones and they were so much fun, no fear at all!) and smilingly explain the shift to the three modes and 90% use, and to act shocked when you say to mom, “Oh, I’m sorry! I thought you were aware of the changes that have happened in the past ten years! We certainly need to do a better job of getting the word out about what the national parent organization, ACTFL, has done in terms of (name of school’s) use of the book.” And then smile at your principal and playfully suggest that next year before school starts she give your department some time to plan how they can do a better job of communicating the remarkable new things that have happened in WL education so that parents who are so strongly engaged in their kids’ educations can know how we at (name of school) are keeping up with them and aren’t they happening fast!

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8 thoughts on “Jen’s Fast Processor”

  1. Could she read a book (fiction)–at her level–at home? Could she figure out some “activities” she could do with that “book” which she feels would improve her vocabulary acquisition? Examples: Draw a cartoon book of the “book”, write herself some comprehension questions for each chapter that she could also answer, make a personal illustrated glossary, make some venn diagrams to compare characters, etc., etc.

    If a student really wants to do work outside of class, it should be work that will possibly lead to increased acquisition which means the textbook is OUT.

    Is this student sufficiently motivated to search out a native speaker for conversation? Is this student sufficiently motivated to watch a film with Spanish subtitles? I sense this is not really the case.

    Or is this really a case of believing that what other kids are doing in other classes (textbook work) is REAL work, concrete work, conscious work?

    It is very difficult for people to understand (even adults) that language acquisition is unconscious. It is NOT learning. These kids LEARN content in their other classes. We must teach them that language class is NOT like any other class they have. I find this concept to take quite a while for people to really understand in their gut. You are patient–good luck.

  2. I don’t even tell parents that we acquire languages unconsciously. They would not want to hear that. It would mess with their world.

    I see this child as a victim of that all too common parental bias that their child needs to work hard and achieve and all of that hooey. I totally agree, having seen it dozens of times at least in my career, with

    …is this student sufficiently motivated to search out a native speaker for conversation? Is this student sufficiently motivated to watch a film with Spanish subtitles? I sense this is not really the case….

    She’s not. Her parents still believe in the book because they learned from the book and they learned a lot (in their own minds). This is the time we need to defend our turf as the professionals we are. Jen feels the same way, as you will see in the next two blog posts which will both appear tomorrow, where she talks about what you said here, Jody:

    …if a student really wants to do work outside of class, it should be work that will possibly lead to increased acquisition which means the textbook is OUT….

  3. Thank you both for weighing in on this. Knowing this girl, I am pretty sure the root of it all is deep insecurity. The kind that drives people to rely completely on how they measure up with others. The kind that makes you feel good about yourself only if you are “the best” and if everyone else is somehow “below you.” The kind that makes you feel good about yourself only if there are numbers involved, like the elusive 100% that you can track constantly and in that tracking is your sense of security. So by taking all of this away, I have essentially put this girl in a scary space where she cannot rely on all these things.

    I have empathy for her, because this was me back in the day. Last year when we shifted to TCI in the last quarter of the year, she seemed fine with it. I suspect that this was due to the fact that it was something new right at the time of year where everything at school is particularly onerous, so we were breathing new life into the class. Now that the novelty has worn off, she’s wanting to get back to feeling the burn and being able to predict and control her performance by doing a great job memorizing stuff. Just a guess.

    Tomorrow is the first day of second semester, so I will re-introduce the “input homework.” This is basically the Nathan Black system where the kids choose input for themselves. I think this will help. I will also ramp up the PQA and stories in class–for me this means making myself slow down, making myself enforce the no talking rule, and creating some silent spaces during the conversation. This girl is NOT a fast processor with the in-class listening stuff. So that might also be frustrating to her. She would excel if the class was purely on paper, but it is scary and unsettling for her to have to process auditory info that doesn’t come so easily. This puts her on the same level with the others in the class and messes up her world view. I don’t mean that to sound snarky. It is probably really uncomfortable.

    One thought I had was that she could use the textbook on her own homework time. She could choose that for her “input.” I know it is not really input in the acquisition sense, but it might be what she needs for awhile to help her stress/anxiety level drop, and to realize that learning lists of words won’t help her communicate. I doubt if she will use the textbook every single week, since there is so much other fun stuff to do. She plays ice hockey, so I’m going to direct her to some websites where she can read about hockey and hockey players in French.

    But really, why am I giving her so much of my energy??? Wtf??? I need to focus on all the other kids who are truly engaged, and let go of this one. How ridiculous. I am going to focus on the other kids in the class who are playing the game willingly and with open hearts.

    Anyway, I’m feeling myself tiptoe around her a bit because she can get really cranky and shut down. I also need to check in with guidance or whatever, because sometimes at staff meetings people talk cryptically about “the home situation” and I don’t know what that means, but clearly something is amiss. I hate when they do that: give you just enough info but then not really say what’s going on. I know, I need to just (wo)-man up and be the teacher and tell her she cannot sulk in class.

    Thank you for helping me figure this out!

    1. I think that your instincts are right on. My guess (also) is that she panics when things are out of her control because there are parts of her life out of her control right now and that is also her personality. A textbook is so very linear that she can prepare in advance and feel extraordinarily (and falsely) in control.

      Another option might be for her to have the target structures a day or two ahead of time. It may simply be that she is uncomfortable walking into class each day wondering what the focus is. Because of her coping strategies, she cannot just walk into class without having prepared in some way. It makes her feel vulnerable or heightens her current (maybe permanent) state of anxiety. If you can tell her what the structures are for the week, or even the next day, you could alleviate that.

      I can tell you that anxiety is a very real thing and that many high school students with “attitude” issues are covering an anxiety issue. Anxiety does not have a logical base and kids with anxiety suffer because they are often bright, but cannot explain to themselves or others why they are anxious. It’s frightening and embarrassing.

      The other strategy is a whole lot of love. Even if she doesn’t appear to respond to it right away. Security is important at any age and any level of learning….not just the security of knowing that our academic skills are “good enough” but the security of knowing that we matter, that just as people we merit interest and appreciation.

      with love,
      Laurie

    2. I had much the response as Laurie did and you yourself about her particular motivation for moving to “book learning.” She sounds from your description that a lot of her life is not in her hands. She knows she doesn’t process well from just hearing. She needs sight work. She obviously loves the language or she would have left the class by now. So, she wants to escape more into and thinks that is possible through a textbook (she wants more vocabulary and is a 4%).

      Last summer in St. Louis, Krashen encouraged in the beginners lecture to read. Just read in the target language. It is the unconscious acquistion that takes place through seeing the word. She may be the kind of learner who seeing words pictures and cements them in her brain. I know I am.

      Why not loan her one of your novels that you’ve enjoyed and offer to do a book talk with her. Tell her to write words she doesn’t know and you’ll help her understand the nuances. Tell her that you both can talk about the book in the target language. Tell her that you’ve been waiting for her to take the next step in her own study process, to have real conversations about things that are important to her. Tell her that you recognize how she has grown as a listener through the process you’ve been using and you realize all learners have to take charge of our own learning. Encourage her exploration as a learner, provide resources that she can grasp hold of, but don’t change what you’ve been doing in your classroom for her. You have to teach ALL of the students.

      She may think you an odd duck, but later on your recognition of her as a learner will encourage her in many more ways than just learning French. You’ve seen the shining light she keeps hidden to most and you’ve given her charge of something she can control. And you can breathe a sigh of relief that once she understands you care about all your students as individual, she will probably give her attitude a break.

    3. …so by taking all of this away, I have essentially put this girl in a scary space where she cannot rely on all these things….

      The way you word this, jen, is probably the most accurate explanation I have ever read on kids like this, the ones who want us to go back to the model of success most of them knew in middle school, where it is all about studying and memorizing. You identify their insecurity, their need for parental approval, their reliance on the ubiquitous 100 point assessment model as a symbol of their superiority, and then you wrote that you, by asking her to become more human (since we don’t study languages to learn them so much as we interact with others to do so) you have frightened her because on some level she knows that success in your class is all about the three modes and not about how much she can study.

    4. I love the transition between the fourth and fifth parapraph there, jen. You essentially wake up to the fact that this girl doesn’t really care about learning, like the pure learners do.

      Rather, she cares about using her bitchy edge to straighten you out into giving her the grade she sees herself as deserving, and in the way she wants it so she doesn’t have to go outside of her comfort zones. We know she is just scared.

      By refusing her that, though, you are truly her best teacher, the best adult around her, because you are forcing her to do real growth, growth that will serve her in life to understand that the world is not about certain sneetchy, semi-angry people telling other people what to do, but is all about people of all colors, intellects, preferences, religions, etc. all working together, making America the unique successful experiment among nations that it is. You, then, emerge as a real patriot, not a fake one.

      I would also suggest that you don’t cop out and give her the book as another way to get a grade. I have tried that in these situations and, like you predict, I know that she won’t use it. She only wants you to let her memorize and use the same formula for success that worked in middle school. She doesn’t give a rip about ice hockey, either, not really. In my opinion.

      You two are having a mental battle of big proportion. Thank goodness you are at least getting that newly mandated New Hampshire/Vermont extra pay (thank you Bernie Sanders!) for working with her, right? What is it? Oh yeah: “…Teachers who successfully impart real learnings to kids with bitchy edges and lose more than two hours of sleep per week doing it will be compensated at a rate of $1000 extra per month per student….”

      She wants to be accepted. She has been accepted, by her teachers in middle school at least, but they were doing her a disservice by sending her the message that blind busy work and memorization are keys to life. You are giving her the real key, the interpersonal piece, and she is afraid to take it.

      The sulking is her response instead. By insisting that she not sulk, you teach her much. Continue that. And continue your empathy. It is a just God who created empathy in humans. And if the mom comes running to the principal to expose your perfidy, you will win that argument too, and with a smile.

  4. Quick update: day one of semester two. Took the “new year, new you!” approach. We reacquainted ourselves with the rules, with a special focus on “one person speaks, others listen.” Went slowly. Used gestures (which I had inadvertently gotten away from). Lots of gestures w/ eyes closed. Slow PQA with only 2 new structures. Didn’t rush into a story. Didn’t fill the silence. Felt relaxed. Kids were relaxed. I think I can do this! It will require constant practice to really get the reps, but I tried to remember “get that structure in every sentence you say.” Looking forward to trying again tomorrow! Many thanks to everyone for the support. It is so priceless. I am incredibly fortunate to have you all on my team 🙂

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