Question for the Group

Here is a question for the group:

Hello Ben,

This is my first year teaching Middle School Spanish. It is considered an elective here. I teach 11 classes total on an A/B schedule. I teach 6th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. I feel like I am losing my mind!

I have been doing OWI and trying to build a word wall for verbs and nouns to set us up for the Word Chunk Activity. I have been circling and some days are good and some days are bad. Lately, it has been bad. I have been policing the no English inconstantly and have let way too many kids use the bathroom when I said I would only allow 2. I got sick of the complaining. Ahhhhhhhhhh. I see 8th grade first and I fight their insecurity and bad attitude (oh did I mention, I am replacing a teacher who left half way through the year and then they had 3 subs after that!?) so I am fighting them testing me. Then I see the 6th graders who are SO NEEDY (I taught HS before this) and then I see the 7th graders who are in between and by the time I see them I am worn out.

Here’s the big question I have:

I was trying to get some kind of advice from a good teacher next to me who teaches computers and she advised me to have more student based work because I am the only one teaching. There is a big push in my district for Personalized Learning and students doing the work not you. I tried to explain to her that I can’t give them worksheets because they aren’t able to produce anything yet. Then I felt looked down or that my method was ineffective. How do I combat this!? Is she right!? Do I need more student work?

My kids seem all of sudden bored and insecure and whiny and it is only the first month of school! Any ideas?

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22 thoughts on “Question for the Group”

  1. The computer teacher’s idea is insufficient for language acquisition and does not apply to what you are doing. Don’t listen to it. Your kids need CI and as much as you can heap up on their plates. Then add some more. Go slowly, enforce the rules, use the kids’ jobs (see that category – Jobs for Kids) and really get them going – you should have at least five actively working jobs in place by now, the story and quiz writers and the PQA counters plus the artist. Don’t worry so much about the word chunk game of OWI or any of that. It’s not about the strategy but the focused interaction in the target language with the kids. This is all happening because you are new and it just takes some practice. Keep at it. Keep talking to them. Your main issue clearly as with most of us is with classroom management. Read some of the articles here on that topic. Really, I would do the Ten Minute Deal (find it in the categories). We can’t retrofit your entire month so far, but we can ask for input from the group on this topic, and you can address this problem one day at a time, one discussion with us here at a time, and we can cross our fingers and work hard and hope for the best. Let’s make that our goal over the next few weeks and create a thread below on it and not drop the thread until you are feeling a little better. No one said this work is easy.

  2. Can I reiterate on the jobs piece? I am trying to help my new Chinese teacher and see him running around doing things the kids could do. While he is doing this, there is too much down time and the kids start getting unruly. So I make a big deal out of the jobs. One kid gets to decide what the sign is for a new word and I ask the kid, “What should we do for this new term?” like it is the most important decision in the world. The jobs are listed on a big paper on the wall which the parents always look at when they come in for events. The fire marshall leads the kids out in a drill. The prop master gets the props we need. In one class, I let the prop master wear one of the hats from the box per his request and he chooses a different one each day. One kid takes care of the writing paper box, passing out papers, collecting papers, passing out scissors for cutting flashcards, starting the morning greeting, and shouting out the English for “What does it mean?” until the class doesn’t need it anymore. The other day, one kid came in and started erasing the board when the kid whose job it is came in and told him to stop because that is his job. The jobs have an amazing affect on the class. They build a sense of community and responsibility for keeping the class running smoothly and they cut down on those moments of down time. Finally, when observer’s come in, they really make your class look good.

    One more point, if the kids resist the idea of jobs, preface them with things like, “Who likes to get up now and then and walk around? Okay, you can pass out papers.” “Who likes drawing? You can draw the picture dictation on the board.” “Okay, now we have a job that is extremely important, the reader leader, who things they can handle this?” Hands always go up.

  3. You need to remember– and share– one key insight: not all subjects are acquired in the same way. You must DO phys ed to get better. You must LISTEN and PLAY music to get better. For English, you must mostly READ to get better. For languages, 95% of acquisition is input (get Lightbrown and Spada How Languages Are Learned 4th ed and read all of Krashen’s stuff). This will give you the mental armour to ward off the swords of output and worksheets.

    They do need seatwork cos it’s hard to pay attentn for an hour or whatever. Give them read-and-translate work, and 1/2 class/week have them write. Gives you all a break.

  4. One thing that has helped my impulsive students cut down the English is putting up a timer. I’ve done it both as a countdown (setting it for 10 or 15 minutes, and having my English Police student stop the time when English is uttered) and as a stopwatch (where the English Police stops the time and I solemnly mark the time on the board for the class to see, then start the time over from 0). I like the stopwatch better, because then OTHER classes see it and you can compete to see who can avoid English the longest.

  5. The kids are complaining because they know you will cave if you do. They already won that battle. Despite how it may appear, students really want structure. Rules, procedures, and jobs give them that structure. I don’t do jobs. I wish I did, but I also have an every-other-day middle school schedule, and I have the hardest time remembering who does what with my 12 classes and 250 students. I just want to remember their names right now. We’re 4 weeks into the school year, but I’ve only seen my kids 11 times now. I’m focusing on the rules and what helps is a trick someone else posted here (I can’t remember who or where the posting is). I have half sheets of paper with all eight of Ben’s rules on them. The first time a kid breaks a rule, I fill out his/her name on the top, circle the rule they broke and put it on their desk. then I add a check for every time they break the rule again. If they get 3 checks, its a lunch detention. It’s a good system. It has helped me a lot. Discipline precedes instruction. Beat that into your head and work on consistency! Hang in there. Things will get better.

    1. I take 1-2 minutes every day to give out jobs. Gotta be fair. Everyone gets a turn until everyone’s had a chance. Works for me.
      I like the paper and checking rules. I don’t know if I could keep up with all that paper though. I tried that kind of thing before and I didn’t like the feel and couldn’t/didn’t want to keep track of it.

      1. The paper thing does take some time, but I find its more of an investment of my time rather than waste. I’ve been getting fast at filling the slips out, but I think its good for me to take some time out to discipline. In the past, I was too busy to enforce the rules and too worried about getting as many reps in, and things would go awry. I was like, “don’t bother me [with discipline], I’m teaching!” For me, its been working. I also like it because I don’t even have to say anything to the kids. It helps avoid confrontation and kids arguing with me, and gives me and them a visual reminder to watch out.

  6. I’ve done presentations here in France where I ask the people who came to hear me to play the role of my students. To demonstrate student jobs I have the job titles written on badges on ribbons that they just loop over their heads so I can look and see who is Timer, Quiz Writer, Story Writer, etc. This might work with real students too, so you can remember who is doing which job that day.

    1. Wow, that’s a great idea! You could hang them on the removable hooks on the wall and when they come in it would be a breeze. I wonder if you could make them look like something cool that would also attract the students. Perhaps backstage tickets or something.

    2. I agree with Melissa. Judy, what a cool idea! I want to make badges like this. Let’s see, where am I going to get the materials…

      I was thinking of putting up a poster with student jobs and having students write a post-it with their name and place the post-it next to the job for that day. But this badge idea sounds way cooler.

  7. There is a lot of great advice already. I just wanted to add: CI does work really well with middle school kids. If you’re used to high school, though, and you’ve been trained in CI by high school teachers, know that they are generally going to expect less need for change of activity and the ability to do longer reading than what I found 10- to 14-year-olds needed (at least my former students).

    Once I began to thrown in a lot of different CI methods (I made a whole chart of ideas for steps 1, 2, and 3 of TPRS) and only expected them to stick with one thing for 15-20 minutes, then take a brain break for 2-5 minutes of something light, things improved with their cooperation and effort.

    This year I’ve begun teaching high school. It is different! I am enjoying how easily they can understand directions and follow them. They can think logically and for a longer time than middle schoolers. They also draw in more outside knowledge and comparisons. Middle schoolers can’t always connect the dots.

    My mom, a retired middle school science teacher, said that 7th graders had full control over nothing about themselves – their bodies, feelings, thoughts, words. Often true.

    1. Diane, you got a class of middle school students to focus on CI for 15-20 minutes at a time? Wow. I struggle to do that with my high school students. That’s good to know that it’s possible!

  8. I am struggling with the same issue… I work in a school focused on “student -centered” learning and teachers are encouraged to have students work at their own & go at their own pace. I am a new teacher but student taught with a CI teacher and used the method with my students. At my new school, I tried for 2 weeks to go for a more “traditional” method as the other Spanish teacher explained to me that in order to be “student centered” and “standards based,” students should be able to move through materials at their own rate. In her class, they sped class memorizing vocab lists and then can take assessments whenever they see fit so I tried the same. After 2 weeks and various conversations with students about how they “can never learn Spanish” and had never actually heard Spanish spoken to them. I knew and had seen that there was a better way. I have switched to doing stories in my classes, but find that, although I feel like I am doing the right thing, students aren’t used to having to pay attention in class and go along with the group… that and I’m nervous about not “doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” or allowing students to be going at their own pace/reaching standards at their own pace since I am moving them along as a class. I’d love some more advice on this piece of this question!

    1. Don’t forget that when the students are the topic of conversation, your class is the most “student centered” thing going! When you watch that barometer student to get a feel for the classes comfort with a phrase, or when students begin to offer output as they become comfortable, you have created a completely student centered experience.

      As for paying attention and being part of a group–this is experience that they truly need. The art of conversation goes a long way (seminar class, job interview, cooperative learning/working…). Don’t forget that you offer them a beautiful opportunity for growth here!

    2. “Going at their own pace.” Their rate is S L O W. That is why you can move as a class. This is a conversation you are having with the students. What is the pace of each of the two persons in the conversation? It is not about pacing. It is about give and take. It is about ask and answer. It is about inform and react. And there are 2-3 involved in this conversation: the teacher, the group, and the individual whom the teacher is interviewing and and about whom the group and the teacher are talking.

      So we proceed as a class with the teacher providing the comprehensible input and guiding the conversation. As the students are doing their 50% they are each acquiring the language at their own pace. It is not a matter of whether or not they go at their own pace. That is the given. They will acquire as they are ready and not before. But since we cannot predict that we focus on having a conversation with lots of comprehensible input.

  9. I think that reading is one thing that kids can do at their “own pace” Embedded Readings are perfect for this. A variety of short (5-15 sentences) readings using the same structures will also do this. Kids who read/process faster will go through more readings. Ultimately they all are receiving input!! It may be a nice thing to have in your back pocket to “prove” that you are letting students “set the pace” in a way that an administrator will “understand” (please forgive my overuse of “quotes”. :o) )

    with love,
    Laurie

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