Repairing Classes

I got this question:

Hi Ben:

I will have 48 8th graders this year that I did some CI instruction with last year but with whom I also used the textbook (I caved!). How would you suggest I approach this returning group as opposed to my fresh batch of 60 7th graders?

They liked the stories at first, but I went way too fast and did not establish the meaning of the structures well enough. I also had too many structures, was too concerned about being entertaining, and jumped in too quickly with the stories (I used the prepared stories in the Blaine Ray book, as I had just done in his 3 day workshop with Katya Paukova).

Of course they got tired of the predictable model. By the end of the year I was just doing the readings and some students would groan when I brought those out too. In summary, I had buy-in for about 3 months and then I ran out of steam and ideas; I then wove back in the text book to give them a sense of completion and structure. I still did a bit of circling and PQA with food and weekend activities, and we continued to do Friday timed writings.

I will have two 8th and two 7th grade classes this fall.

This is a good one for the group. What to do with those eighth graders? It’s not an easy question and we need the group’s combined thoughts on it, especially from middle school teachers who may have been in this situation. How do we repair classes?



6 thoughts on “Repairing Classes”

  1. I’m just taking a break from massive house cleaning before we drive away tomorrow. I thought that this person might be helped by my similar predicament with my 7th grade class 2 school years ago:

    I spent a whole class period at a crisis point addressing their bad attitude and letting them tell me they were sick of stories. But I too had been giving them WAY too much content (thinking surely they’d retained some textbook stuff from before, right? wrong except for a couple superstars). They needed a sense of variety and I needed to accept how weak their language ability really was at that point.

    It definitely got better with them over time. They weren’t ever an easy class to manage no matter what approach was used. However, they’re all off to high school and I am willing to bet they like me & my class way more after experiencing high school classes at most schools they’ll attend. (I also think many of them will be surprised at how much they really know compared to classmates.)

  2. Leigh Anne Munoz

    One time, I had a combo 3/4 year class that had only had my weak CI the previous year. So, the follow-up year, some of them knew how to play the game of circling with balls with the standard TPRS survey. Ben has the survey here on the site, and instructions for circling with balls. If you want a better explanation, I will have more time later, just ask, and I or someone else can elaborate a bit.

    However, the students generally did better than I thought they would…I had to be brave in a different way than with my uninitiated groups. Diane is right — it is harder to ‘rein them in’ but I still have fond memories of the time we spent messing around with the survey.

  3. I had a similar moment with my first class I used TPRS with. Staying in Bounds was and still is one of my biggest struggles.

    First of all (and I was just talking about this with Ben I think?), I personally think that 7th graders can be jerks and that the maturation process most of them continue to undergo over the summer is really helpful in creating a collaborative community in your room. This is a good mindset to be in when you come back in the fall.

    When you took the stories too fast, you broke their trust. What I have personally done (with some success), and some may disagree with me, is be honest with them when they come in. Tell them that you were excited and you gave them too much, too fast, and it didn’t work. Tell them that you’re hoping to show them that they can trust you to only give them as much as they can handle this time around. I would also make it clear that YOUR 50% is staying in bounds and going slow and ensuring 100% comprehension. You expect them to do their 50% as well REGARDLESS of how they felt at the end of last year.

    Then I would start pretty much from the beginning again with them. They probably didn’t acquire the stuff you tried to teach them last year if you were scattershotting your vocab and not getting enough reps as a result (at least, this was my problem). Take it slow,POINT OUT THEIR SUCCESS, vary your activities, and be consistent in 8th grade as a way of following through with that conversation, and they will trust you more and more.

    TLDR; A short acknowledgement of the struggle you shared last year; and then putting your money where your mouth is (which we know you can do now) so that you and the kids can rebuild your relationship.

  4. I am sorry you had such a frustrating situation with those kids. As a teacher of 7th and 8th grade boys for 4 years (mandatory Latin class), I understand how important motivation and buy-in is. It took me a long time to gain the confidence (and gain their confidence and trust) to do this work. I began slowly, with stories I had adapted from the textbook (see embedded reading strategies), often in powerpoint form with pictures and text. My powerpoints were lame, but the kids connected with these adaptations, and when I gave them assessments for reading comprehension, they succeeded. All of them.

    My recommendations would be:

    1. Always have a backup plan for when things degenerate (and they will). Just don’t let it take you off your game. It could be a reading, a worksheet, a dictation exercise, a quiz, whatever. Just have that plan B ready to go. And don’t make it a punishment, but rather just say matter-of-factly: “I was hoping that you could handle something fun and interactive today, but that’s ok. Get out your pencils for a ___”

    2. Jobs Jobs Jobs (this is one of my big IFLT takeaways)
    Put those students to work, especially the ones who are most likely to disrupt. Key for building a story with PQA is to have a “professeur” (Latin aribiter/arbitrix), that is a student who decides on the correct answer when you have 3 or 4 suggestions for a detail, and you are not sure which one to go with based on the energy in the room, and you’re about to lose them, especially if students are getting in the habit of shouting out or shouting down answers you pick. See Ben’s list of 60 jobs on his website. The more you have kids “policing” themselves and each other, the less you will have to do it. Make the effort to designate 5 or even 10 jobs every day, and give credit. It is worth it.

    There are many other strategies that you can employ, including the excellent suggestions above. But these are the first two I would work on.

  5. Ray Bauer teaches 8th grade Spanish and has found Ben’s weekly schedule his MO. He does one story every week. He is experiencing much success, as he tells me, and knows that students do burn out on the stories, no matter how great they are. So, once a week with a story works for him.

    You may also try MovieTalk.

    I’m also thinking of the variety of kinesthetic brain breaks that can be done to keep the energy level. One easy one is to simply have students stand up and command them to do things slowly, fast, romantically, and have them say silly things to each other.

  6. I am all for the weekly schedule. Remember Carol Gaab’s mantra: “The brain craves novelty”. So important to ward off the “Oh, no, not another story!” groan. Music, music, music!

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