Mental Health First

Two big roadblocks to success in our CI classrooms are:

  1. There are severe time limits. So much time is needed to show real gains – far more time than we have.
  2. We teach students who for the most part can only think in terms of what is on a test.

I won’t even mention administrators and colleagues in that list.
So (and this was the point of a thread a few months ago but one we need to keep in mind), it is best to avoid thinking about what how we can teach kids a language as fast as possible, and focus rather on what is best for our mental health in our classrooms.
How to keep our mental health? By not being the center of attention all the time. Those teachers who want to do CI all the time – because they know it is the best thing to do for their kids – are asking for trouble for many more reasons than those mentioned above.
I know the research spurs us on to want to do greater and greater amounts of CI in class, but if we are to keep from burning out we need to give the kids time to “do” things. When kids “do” things they think they are learning.
Free writes come to mind, as well as dictees. Things where they write or draw. Also I have been using Bob Patrick’s OWATS idea to great effect lately with upper level kids. OWATS is badass.

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36 thoughts on “Mental Health First”

  1. When you gave us a summary of your observation of Linda Li’s class, you said that she uses about half of the block for CI and the other half is writing (I could be misrepresenting your report….just going on memory…) I’d like to know more specifically what writing activities she’s doing. I find that I need more “doing” work for the students for my (and possibly their) mental health. Would love any ideas and suggestions.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, Angie. It’s the busiest time of the year with grades, report card comments and other obligations. School related stuff.
      “she uses about half of the block for CI and the other half is writing. ”
      A clarification. It was just one class on that day Ben observed. All my 5 classes look different every day. They vary all the time. I really don’t have a pattern, like some people have “day 1-story, day 2-reading, for instance”.
      Back to the your question “I’d like to know more specifically what writing activities she’s doing.”
      It’s actually an input based activity. I retell the story that we did in class before, but I ask my students to type what they heard in Chinese characters (not pinyin, the phonetic system) on iPad. They listen (get more aural input), they have to spell it accurately (Pinyin) in order to choose the right characters (Making connections between the language in their head with the visual form). Sometimes, I only retell part of the story, and let the kids continue to type. They can type the rest of the story exactly the same as we did in class or they can be creative and rewrite the story.
      Hope this helps! And I will try to come here more often!
      Have a good weekend!
      Linda

      1. …I will try to come here more often!….
        Linda has to for two reasons: 1) If I tell her I said something to the group about what I see in her classes, she always checks it out because she thinks that I will misrepresent what she does, which is likely, and 2) we have extra time here in Delhi because going outside is not really something that people do.

          1. For those interested AQI is Air Quality Index. Most US cities are well under 100. Delhi this weekend was 600:
            Hazardous
            (301-500) Serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; serious risk of respiratory effects in general population. Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.

  2. Yeah! I am experiencing massive mental health issues. My “stop the bleeding” strategy thus far has been worksheets. Legit CI worksheets, storyboards and I spent some cash on Martina Bex website to bail myself out, but nonetheless it is paper and that creates a whole other mental health issue for me which is literally that I am drowning in so much paper that I can’t keep up with. The paper itself gives me anxiety.

    1. I know, Jen!!! I have been wondering about you since you jumped into French like I did. Are you self-taught, like me? Are you still doing French? How is your school/position?
      Anyway, I have my own reasons for wanting to just stick to talking to my students, but I know what you mean, Jen — inventing or adapting clever written work/activities can really be too much to ‘manage.’ Even for upper levels…
      So, basically, all I do, every day, is Anne Matava stories…one after the other…I’m not trying to be heroic — honest!
      But, I did start last year with composition notebooks. Instead of doing free writes or anything creative or interactive, I use the notebook as documentation/proof of class activity only. Students keep their notebook in the class bucket, and two/four students pass out/collect the notebook as a classroom job. Everyday. So far, only a few complaints about using the composition book. Everything goes in the notebook. Students keep their notebook under their desk during classic storytelling mode. When we act one or two scenes from an Anne Matava story, we stop, take out notebooks, and I project the typing the of the text. Students copy it as I type in real time.
      Blaine Ray says that this is a waste of time — I asked him about it in 2003. But he must be superhuman if he can get them to listen for 57 minutes, five days a week.
      If there are a few minutes left in the period, I type instructions onto the MS Word document being projected [draw, translate, read 2 paragraphs in English and/or French from a September/Oct. story aloud to a partner]. I also look up culture stuff in wikis, songs, current events and cartoons and have them copy that too. Copy, copy, copy. They like it. With Wiki articles in English, we just popcorn read it out loud. They love to hear one another’s English pronunciation errors!
      Getting my students to engage in reading, is nigh impossible, no matter what… I don’t know what the deal is. It seems that they either are able to listen and/or act out the story, or they need to mindlessly move their pen on paper. The in-between type of activities that everyone else on this blog seems to excel at [interactive reading (Options A, B and C will not work for me) and interactive// creative writing] are just beyond me at this point.
      I grade notebooks at the end of the semester for 40% of their grade.
      I feel like a ‘stoker’ shoveling coal into the engine of a train. If I slow down, everything falls apart. With 200 students moving quickly in and out of my class, for an hour each day, I just can’t do any thing more complicated than asking them questions out loud or having them copy information into their notebooks. It’s like a train station….literally…
      Thanks for listening — I didn’t have a very good day today…

  3. Dude jen that paper thing is unnecessary. Like where do you have them do free writes? My kids do them in their composition books. I don’t even look at them until parent conferences. Who has the time?
    The change here, the CI change, is nuclear in its explosiveness. Nothing is left unchanged from the old ways. Embrace that idea with the paper thing. I collect occasional quick quizzes and translation quizzes, which I glance at to register it in the gradebook or just put directly into the trash, but dictees and free writes and whatever else go into the composition books. Nobody notices.
    Linda does writing and story boards in the second half of class. Today a seventh grader (second year with Linda) in my advisement showed me some things he had written in authentic Chinese characters and it was freaking unreal. I know it took time. (Linda and I are constantly talking about mental health because the stress factor of living in a city like Delhi along with teaching is insane).
    I can ask her to comment on this question. I also have an observation from a few weeks ago that, like many other things I’ve been sent by group members, is just stuck in queue. Workin’ on it….

    1. Jen- As far as the paperwork goes, if it’s simple enough you can have them correct the work themselves. If it’s more complicated then you can just give them credit for doing it. Or, you could just collect it, put it in a drawer somewhere, and recycle it at the end of the semester/year. I know I definitely have some students that are so brainwashed be school that they don’t think they’re really doing “work” unless you give them some worksheets. It’s sad, but true. So, every now and then I oblige them. Am I going to stress out about grading it? No. Absolutely not. If they ask I just tell them they get credit for doing it, and that it’s practice after all. I think it’s all about finding balance. And, I’m simply not going back to being the teacher who felt like he had to mark up absolutely every little thing and then realize that students would just glance at the number that they received and recycle it anyway. No thanks!

  4. Thanks y’all! I really don’t know what hit me when I came to this school. In my former school, I had it all slick and paperless. Composition books used as y’all describe above. I loved that system. Simple. Easy. Everything in one place. No piles of paper.
    The piles I need to use now, are reams of worksheets I’ve had to use in order to get thru the 80 mins. I can’t manage these kids with CI. Or with anything for that matter. Just whiling away my time, basically. I am pretty traumatized. So I don’t have energy to do much CI. Or much of anything on some days.
    I definitely don’t mark the reams of paper. I only have about 60 students, and I’m drowning. I have no idea how the 100+ student teachers do it! Incomprehensible to me. I am in awe of every teacher who has the constitution to be able to do this work and not get sucked dry. Holy cow!
    Just got thru my “level 4” class! Yay! only 3 more blocks til the weekend! Woo hoo!!!
    BTW…Leigh Anne, I am not currently doing French. I miss it! And yes, I was “self taught” aka independent acquirer thru a s#*%t ton of CI, movies, music bc I wanted to learn French! I am now doing Spanish at a local school and it is kicking my @$$ daily. OY! Super challenging on every level bc the community is in serious pain. Pain that I can’t even begin to imagine, and at the same time I am feeling it all and taking it in so it’s affecting me deeply. Not sure if this is the right fit for me. Stay tuned 🙂

    1. Jen, I’m so sorry to hear about the things you and your school community are going through… it sounds like you could say more, but that you choose not to — that’s ok, too..
      My thoughts are with you, my dear. I will stay tuned — keep me in the loop ok? 🙂
      –Leigh Anne in SoCal

    2. So sorry jen that the climate at your school is so exhausting. Just finding a way to make it through the day and keep the joy alive inside ourselves is perhaps the most admirable thing.

        1. Hey Ben! I really miss being apart of this community. You know, I’m teaching all heritage classes (native speaking classes) this year, which sucks in that I have to remove myself from the TCI community to a large extent so I can focus on providing quality reading instruction in the heritage classes.
          My school better give me some non-heritage classes next year!

          1. Hey Angie… since you ask! I’m actually doing two main things: 1) Reading Workshop and 2) watching telenovelas and then reading their transcriptions.
            I happened to come across a wonderful set of telenovelas published by the PBS (of sorts) of Spain, rtve.es. Right now, we’re watching the first episode of Carlos, Rey Emperador:
            http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/videos/carlos-rey-emperador/carlos-rey-emperador-capitulo-1/3312421/
            What’s great about the telenovelas produced by rtve.es is that they provide the transcript, easy to copy and paste in a word document. And they’re high quality productions, similar to Downton Abbey.

  5. Our thoughts are with you as well in SoCal, Leigh Anne.
    To jen I might say that many of us forget that we’re not the crazy ones when we can’t handle what is around us. There is every reason to believe that in certain buildings, most buildings in fact, that the culture is crazy. I am convinced that Columbine High School is one of those buildings and the shootings are just one manifestation of it. I know because two of my children have been there – I pulled them both out when it became apparent that only football stars and cheerleaders are honored in that environment – with a third going in in the fall unless he comes with me to India next year. The kids there have little respect for adults, they memorize the minimum to get the grade, sadness is everywhere in the kids, who live in a part of Denver that can only be described as a gun culture, and the teachers are sad as well but don’t show it. That, jen, is what we call a school in America in 2015. How could a thoughtful and compassionate teacher expect to thrive in such a place, where most of the teachers are so robotic and unreal? I have done two workshops in TPRS with their faculty. Both failed and I knew they were failing when I did them. So jen, I have been wanting to say this since you wrote your comment here a few days ago – it’s not you; it’s the culture in the building. Now you have to decide if you can thrive in there. If not, bolt and don’t look back. Some like you, who feel things, have developed the ability to survive in schools. Angie is one. But if you can’t, don’t look back. No weakness on your part. An insane building in an insane world, that’s all. May the glory and power of our loving God help us during these times. Only He can do it.

    1. The jury is still out on my ability to survive in schools. Year 2 and I’m still standing, thanks in large part to anti-anxiety meds and other health care. There is so much I love about this work, and I believe I can grow into my strength as a teacher and learn a tremendous amount about myself, but it is an ass-kicker for a person like me. I’ve never suffered like this in any other job.

      1. I can feel your pain Angie. That was me pre TPRS. However, like Ben, I now forgive myself for my imperfections. It is more important for me to relax, smell the roses and enjoy the students even if that means we get off track. Education, for the most part, is a train wreck in our schools so we need to do the best with what we have. These students are learning in such an unnatural way throughout the day dealing with 6-7 classes and then homework to boot. (That is why I am anti-homework). The days that I breathe deeply and relax and go really slowly are my best days. Don’t care if I cover one word, one sentence or one paragraph as long as I am connecting with the kids.
        This is easier said than done, but the older I get the better I am at chilling. Hang in there and don’t beat yourself up so much! Good luck!

        1. Who can read this sentence by Polly with full heart and mind? –
          …don’t care if I cover one word, one sentence or one paragraph as long as I am connecting with the kids….
          I can’t. A voice from the distant past always tells me that teaching my students the most French is all that counts. My daily meditation is on what Polly said. My daily challenge is to do all the CI strategies and skills – with grace – while at the same time keeping that sentence she wrote ever present in my mind. Not so easy. But at least I no longer think it’s all about me and how much I can teach the kids, all about getting style points and being admired as a teacher in case someone walks by. Man, those were dark days.

        2. I would like to be a student in your classroom Polly. At least then I would know that I am dealing with a person who cares about me. What is more important than that?

  6. Why did I have this thread left on my browser? Here in Fresno, CA we are two weeks away from vacation but the “little angels” in my 8th grade French II went topsy-turvy on me today.
    My class has 42 students. Today there were many blurters, side conversations and general disrespect. What did I do? I waited. I’m not going to lose my voice or my temper. I dock them points but about 8 students continued. They seem unphased by it.
    I kept them 2 minutes after. I don’t like whole class discipline. I’m wondering what to do in this situation. It is hard to address this immediately when so many students are talking. Suggestions?

    1. The best thing we have seen recently is the resetting timer. It still takes will power to reset or put back minutes, but it is immediate. We are giving them tally marks for making a full ten minutes which will lead to some sort of bonus. There have been a lot more struggles with blurting and interruption this at my school both for me and other teachers. This has helped.

    2. Steven, here’s another thought beside the timer. Have you read John Bracey’s L&D Blurting Plan from a couple days ago (specifically #3c-4b)? Why not adapt it to any activity? At least I’m going to try it (or some version of the basic idea) when there are many students derailing whatever we are doing. It’s their choice. It’s not a punishment. It’s a clear message. It’s likely that I will have the opportunity to try it today.

      1. Thanks Eric and Ruth for suggestions. Although there are less than two week for the semester, I want to be as consistent as possible.

  7. Jen, I know what you mean about going to a new school and being hit with a barrage of traditional expectations. You are right to focus on the “paper trail,” which in some schools is the only way to hold students accountable, and to placate admins, and defend yourself against complaints. As mentioned above, you just need a system for not having to go through those mountains of paper with a red pen. Here is one strategy I employ toward this end, can be done a few times a week.
    1. spot check translation, done on a half sheet. I put a text on board, and point out/highlight the passage for them to silently translate into English. Fast finishers should keep going in the reading. After 8-10 mins, I translate the passage aloud with laser pointer, take questions. Students must show corrections (dictee style). If I have them hand it in “Exit slip” style, I know everyone has turned it in. I look at a few for students I am concerned about, mark all for completion, and throw them in the recycling. Or give it back if it will help them study for a test.
    2. Draw Pass Write. This can eat up the good part of a period. I then scan student pics, and project them for a Read and Discuss the next day. If they can’t handle that (see Bracey’s excellent approach to this), have them write sentences alone or in pairs in response to the pictures. Finish with a timed write. Done.

      1. Here’s one:
        http://martinabex.com/2011/08/28/write-draw-pass/
        I use it as a review of a reading they know well, leading up to a test.
        1. pass out blank paper, students fold them in 4’s, put their name at top left
        2. with story in front of them, students spend 4 minutes sketching a scene from the story in one square (top left), leaving room at top of bottom for a caption.
        3. After 4 min, I tell them to pass the paper (forward, backward, left, right)
        4. Students spend 2 miniutes writing a caption in the TL to the pic. They may quote or paraphrase the reading, which is in front of them.
        5. repeat step 2-4 until there are 4 pics and 4 captions.
        6. paper goes back to the original illustrator (name in top left). That student must correct/add to the captions.
        Students hand these in, then I scan them into pdf on my school copier (it emails scans to me)
        Next day, I project these images on the screen for discussion or writing sentences, or timed write prep, etc.

  8. Jen, we never met in person, me being over here in good old Europe. But your voice on this blog has been familiar to me for many years now. I always appreciate your comments.
    Please know that, like Ben and others, I wish you the strength and the clarity necessary to find the right way out of your insane situation. My thoughts are with you.

  9. I would just add that sometimes we get sucked into feeling guilty – that we are abandoning needy kids – but the bottom line is we are of little use to the kids if we are miserable. When I left Chicago Public Schools for my current position in the ‘burbs, I had something akin to PTSD, coupled with extreme guilt. What helped me cope after I left was the steadfast belief that I could focus on becoming a better educator in my new environment, and that with real skill, I was better poised to contribute to the profession and to students in need, down the road.

  10. With all love and open heart for the kids I left behind in Denver, I couldn’t have taken much more of that. Joey went up to Aspen. Reuben bailed to graduate school. A few of our bright young stars bail each year in DPS and are never heard from again, many changing professions. I know that at East High School (about as urban as a school can get) I found myself shaky inside all day; the cultural focus wasn’t on learning, certainly, and the administration played a daily game of “Gotcha!” I applaud your decision to leave, Alisa, while at the same time applauding Sean Lawler’s true grit in staying. Then there is the situation where Sabrina bailed from Taft HS in CPS to Thomas Jefferson HS in DPS, kind of a parallel move. So many stories that we have been fortunate enough to share in our travels over the years! I have been in four schools since I started doing TPRS and each had its own set of challenges. Just this morning I was talking to one of the heavy hitters in our group who is ready to throw it down and find another profession. Also what jen is going through right now. And that isn’t counting those who read here and don’t share what they are experiencing. Angie used the word suffering here yesterday and her candidness is much valued by us all. It IS suffering. It drives us nearly crazy sometimes. I do see a common thread that class size and school culture are big factors in our mental balance. Which brings up the ridiculous situation that most of those California teachers are now in. All of these stories point to the greatness of teachers to even do it. Some day I will look back on my career and know that the people I worked with were some of the best people on the planet, as reflected in the Fred Rogers quote below. At least we can talk about it here. These are incredible times.

    1. …when I was very young, most of my childhood heroes wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me….
      Fred Rogers

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