On the Syllabus

Q. We have to submit a syllabus for each class, with supplies needed, district tardy and behavior policies, grading policy and classroom behavioral policy, what do you suggest as a possible syllabus using your approach?

A. One answer and perhaps the best one is to hand in the same syllabus as your CI colleagues and teach it in half the time each class, which is easy and has the benefit of lessening the BOREDOM. This answer is for those caught up in departments where everybody wants the status quo to not change.

Doing this protects you. It doesn’t label you as a CI freak. Big point here: there can be no “half-way” syllabus where you try to “mix” CI with your colleagues’ concept of what a syllabus is. Don’t try it.

If you want to submit a true CI syllabus, use the Invisibles Star Sequence, which is pure. But only those working in schools where you don’t have to walk around looking over your shoulder from traditional colleagues’ scowls can use the Star.

The naysayers on CI are not going to give up a cushy job as a textbook teacher (no real work is involved, just go through the book and give the common exams with your colleagues) just because you are into what is – in their minds – the next fad. 

WE know that it’s not a fad and that finally we are aligning with the research and doing what is professionally responsible (aligning w the research) but THEY don’t. So sneak in whatever OWI or other Invisibles Star Sequence activities you want to do AT THE END OF CLASS. Start with ten minutes and let it expand as the kids keep on insisting on making and discussing new characters.

DON’T TELL THE STUDENTS OR ANYONE ELSE IN THE BUILDING that you are doing “something new”. Might as well resign now bc they will not like that!

What happens when the students want more and more CI based on drawings? Provide it, but make sure you teach your required verb forms or whatever is required first. 

If it takes 10,000 hours to come close to mastering a language and you thus sacrifice half of the time you have to the book (that would be less than 75 hours a year), then where’s the harm? You don’t have the time you need in a four year program of 500 hours to even put a dent in the time you need to get real observable results.

So, whenever you think you’re not doing a good job and that your kids should be learning more, think right away about those 10,000 hours and give yourself a break and keep your life simple.

This “stealth” brand of CI, using the old syllabus but sneaking in the new CI work, just makes it easier on you to go through the change, which is hard enough w/o having people hating on you for aligning with the standards. Honor the syllabus, teach it in half the time you would normally, giving yourself time for CI always at the end of class. 

In this way you don’t get labeled as a troublemaker, your syllabus matches the other people in your department, and the pushback is minimized. 

One thing you cannot do, must not do, is try to write a syllabus that bridges the gap between CI and what they are doing. There is no bridge that can be built to bridge that gap. The old way and CI are not compatible and exist in separate universes, i.e. separate parts of the brain.

Devote half or more of the class time to the textbook, follow the tradititional syllabus, stay out of trouble, and do stories or one word images in the last half of class. That’s my current thinking on the question. It changes, but really I can only speak based on my own experiences in 7 buildings over 42 years. You have to decide what to do about the syllabus yourself.

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11 thoughts on “On the Syllabus”

  1. One change I am going to make this year is to require a composition notebook for all students. During second semester when I do write and discuss they will copy down what I have written on the board.

    I will have them keep their notebooks in my room. I will organize them according to class period and have them in crates. That way at any time when I need to get control of the class (kind of like a bailout move) I can say “grab your notebooks we are going to practice writing.”

  2. …when I do write and discuss they will copy down what I have written on the board…..

    Bryan Whitney is the master of this. I will look for the post from a few years ago and if I find it I will republish it above. Has there ever been a better bail out move idea? This is the cream of the cream. Kids are acting like jerks? Take out your comp books! Write what you see me writing. No talking. Bryan describes it better. But yeah, this move is the best and should be used all the time when the little Fauntleroys pick up an attitude.

    1. Bryan N Whitney

      I have never really messed around with the comp books because I just don’t stick with them enough, but you can also just have them pull out a sheet of paper that they will turn in for credit. Then you just give them credit for doing it. It’s pretty easy on everyone that way.

  3. I dropped the comp books for the same reason but then I decided I wanted that “hard evidence” piece for the spring parent conferences. So I did all the dictees and free writes in there and was able to start each parent meeting with a comment from the child about their own performance (on the freewrites). It got the ball rolling very well for the conference. That was bc of the free write bar graph, which was concrete data. But yes Bryan they can be a “pain in the class”.

  4. When I went deskless the comp books saved me from having to pass out clipboards and paper and pencils whenever I needed the bail out move of writing. For one year when I was deskless and notebook less I found myself wanting to bail out with writing but worrying the set up would take too long.

    For me, the routine to enter class includes getting your book and something to write with and either putting them under your chair or doing a bell ringer in the notebook (( definitely did a writing bell ringer when being observed). I also do some tpr brain breaks with Simon says/Jacques a dit where students open, close, lift, pass, throw, etc their notebooks and pencils/pens at a variety of speeds and with a variety of emotions etc.. Sometimes we don’t use the notebooks at all in a class period and the kids just put them back at the end of the period, they don’t seem to mind.

  5. I just grab and pass out the comp books when needed. Susan Gross always insisted that we keep dictee down to ten min. per week, and free writes once every three weeks for only the ten min. writing period, so they didn’t really need them any more than that in my classroom.

    Love the tpr when being observed, and the bellringer suggestion. You know your admins well. Those things are not necessarily padagogically valuable, but they get the boxes checked.

    Carly I am thinking of starting a FB page only for the two new Invisibles books. That is, the opposite of a Wal-Mart CI page but a small and focused group to discuss detailed issues only about the Invisibles, the Star Sequence curriculum and One Word Images, since I see them misrepresented a lot, esp OWI.

    Do you think this is a good idea that will help teachers? I am not drawn to FB but could this work? What are your thoughts or the thoughts of any readers currently doing the Invisibles?

    1. I might be the wrong person to ask about fb, I’m mostly a lurker and I often find the amount of posts overwhelming. That being said, it is a good place for people to check in with one another if they wish!

  6. It is overwhelming but by limiting readership to just those doing the Invisibles it will be useful. I know that there are so many posts but that happens on those big Wal-Mart kind of places, which won’t be the case w this new CHIC group which will be focused on just one thing. Pls join bc you are a leader in the Invisibles, having done so much editing and careful reading in the advance copies, for which I am filled w gratitude.

  7. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Related but off-topic question/comment: Why is it so pleasingly compelling for admins to observe us giving commands and having our Ss sheepishly following what we say, like an army sergeant?
    I guess because it’s the easiest way for them to assess comprehension – watching a game of ‘Simon Says.’ Talk about Captain Obvious. I was once in a wonderful colleague’s CI 6th grade classroom. They were dramatizing a class-made story. Funny costumes – white lab coats, goggles and very long black rubber gloves – I think they were creating a monster. Anyway, she is very chill about management, though her kids are great! and I noticed that some kids didn’t seem rapt in attention, the way I demand of my littles. Not facing the action, whispering a bit during the ‘show…’ Suddenly something really funny happened (in the way of dialogue) and the kids who seemed off-task were chuckling on cue – which means they were tracking and comprehending in real time. Would a non L2-speaking evaluator catch that everyone was engaged and getting it? I think not.
    I guess snowing the observer/evaluator with hard evidence via TPR-like commands is concrete enough for the non-speakers, and fills their ‘do exactly what I say this is skool, dammit!’ mentality.

    1. Think of all the admins who’s only knowledge of “good language teaching” was three four years in a classroom where they learned either nothing, or one single response to “how are you”. They like seeing TPR or regurgitated presentations because it “feels” like engagement. It looks familiar. It looks like all the “good language teaching” they’ve become accustomed to.

  8. Craig I had never thought of that. It’s probably the exact reason why they go for the TPR schtick, which is in truth – in my opinion – a fairly useless side show. But as you point out they can only observe within the limits of their own language experiences.

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