Report from the Field – Robert Harrell

Hi Ben,
I thought you and the PLC might be interested in a conversation I had with a student this week.
One of my first-year students is a lovely girl with a pleasant personality and outgoing nature. However, she constantly blurts in English, lets her mind wander, and disrupts class. Her current Interpersonal Communication Skills grade is a “1” (Far Below Basic = F). There are flashes of engagement, but these are so few and far between as to be negligible. With a gregarious nature, she wants to have conversations in English with students throughout the room but balks at engaging with me (especially since I insist that it be in German).
On Monday I was following up on comments she had made on Friday about her weekend plans. Finally she said:
– “Why do you keep asking me stuff?”
I replied:
– “Because I’m trying to have a conversation with you.”
– “Why?”
– “Because that’s how you acquire German and I’m interested in you. I won’t just ignore you as if you weren’t a person.”
– “Why not? That’s what all my other teachers do!”
– “Because I’m not all your other teachers, and besides the purpose of language is to communicate.”
This is sad for several reasons, among them that this student has internalized the perception that teachers aren’t real people, school interaction isn’t real communication, and genuine interpersonal interaction between teachers and students is “weird”.
I will continue my efforts to get this student to “show up” for class.
Robert

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14 thoughts on “Report from the Field – Robert Harrell”

  1. The formative portion is 20% and the summative portion is 40% for a total of 60% of the grade. The student has done okay on end-of-class quizzes, so her overall grade is “D” rather than “F”.

    1. Robert, you probably have already answered this question, but what exactly constitutes the formative and the summative portions of your participation rubric?
      I am locked into a system which dictates that formative grades constitute 20% of the average, and summative the other 80%, AND my interpersonal communication score (read: JGR) can ONLY fall into the formative category. (And I’m lucky even for that–in my first conversation with the suit he flatly stated that nothing that reeks of participation can even be counted for a grade. Luckily he is intelligent and somewhat flexible and could see the purpose of the JGR.)
      I’d give anything to figure out a way to circumvent that mandate. It would likely involve putting a very different spin on what I’m more or less already doing. If anyone is capable of that I believe it’s you, Robert, because you are brilliant and also because you in CA are saddled with the standards like we are here in ME.
      Thanks.

      1. While I’m not in this position personally, it is inevitable that my school will be moving to a SGB grading structure and I would also like to know how this works in a TCI classroom. Is there a primer for this? I haven’t noticed one, nor have I noticed a response to Anne’s question, but am I missing something?
        (And Leah, thanks for the inspiring dose of honesty and personal growth!)

  2. This year, in working towards using more and more CI, I became aware of myself “checking out” of what was going on in the present, while still going through the routine motions of “teaching” that I had developed over the years so far.
    I have a shy personality, and feel awkward making small talk in general, so I’ve been spending more time chatting with my students casually in English about their lives and interests to help prepare myself for doing this in French and Spanish. I’ve also been practicing making more eye contact when addressing the class, even when not using CI, after realizing that up until now I was often avoiding eye contact!
    This work of “showing up” to teach has helped in my personal life, as well… I’m now consciously focusing more when talking with family and friends instead of half-listening while thinking about something else which I had been doing before without realizing it.

    1. What an amazing thing to say, Leah. This kind of transparency is what we want here. Thank you. You are doing big work. We are all doing big work. What is more important in education right now than being able to look our students in the eye? Gathering data? Is that more important?
      I am certain that I am not just the only one in the group here who would like to express our pride in you today, Leah! The aspect of teaching that cuts is also the side that brings growth both professionally and personally. I’ll stop now but I am just really liking what you said there. I’ll admit it, I got some tears. Who could not? What you are doing is real.

    2. This is amazing Leah. So wonderful you are becoming so aware of everything and are noticing so much. Huge work. So important and like Ben said so real. He also said something the other day about how the challenge of this never ends. It keeps getting more and more interesting. I teared up too.

  3. Here’s something else related to making eye contact with our students, Leah:
    Always check students’ eyes for what they are understanding. If your students look as if they do not understand, it is because they do not. Slow down, circle more deliberately, and stay in touch with what is happening with all of your students.
    Practice with the training wheels on (circling in the order given on the chart) first, so you don’t get bruised, but know that when the wheels are off your overall instruction will take off in the real way.

    1. In the same class that I referenced above, I have a student who has missed quite a bit of school (31 days in the first semester). We were talking about the weather, and I could tell she was lost, so I spent a lot of time helping her process what we were saying. Fortunately, unlike my other student, she did not push back at the attention, though I could tell she was a little uncomfortable feeling like she was being singled out. (She was, but only so I could help her.) When she figured out that this was all about helping her understand, she relaxed. At the end I checked her comprehension and then when we went on I kept checking in to be sure she understood. She could smile and say yes, she understood.
      The good thing for me was that this student provided me with a great “case study” in just how lost a student can be but not say anything to get help. Even with Pointing and Pausing, I had to go over the same sentence several times and ask for English translation as a comprehension check before it “clicked”. It simply reinforces for me the key elements of SLOW, Point and Pause, and Comprehension Check.
      Additional Note: Progress Reports showed up on our online grade portal, and my student (actually two students) came to ask about the grade, so I had a chance to remind them of the Interpersonal Communication Rubric. Both promised to do better. We’ll see, but at least I know I got their attention, something that contacts with home had not done.

      1. I also had a chance to explain how Standards-Based (Power) Grading works, that all is not lost, and both students have a chance to get a 4 or 5 by showing me that they have become proficient or advanced for the Interpersonal Communication Standard.

  4. Leah,
    I was so moved by your comment about revealing yourself to your students, by being present and being conscious of eye contact. School life can be so operationalized and perfunctory. Our strategies defy these cold harsh realities.
    I believe that in humanizing our teaching, we bring fresh hope and wonder to the table. Thanks for reminding us why we’re really here.

  5. Leah,
    Yes, thank you for your transparency! That’s SO cool that you are growing as a teacher, in ways that make a difference in your own life and certainly in those of the students.
    I realized something similar about myself last week. After reprimanding a student ( I had to take her cell phone until a parent came to pick it up, according to school policy regarding using phones in class) I noticed that I was avoiding eye contact with that student because I was uncomfortable and didn’t want to see her response. Direct conflict like that is difficult for me in the class room. I realized that I was probably giving a noverbal message of shame and disapproval by avoiding eye contact with this student and made a conscious effort to continue to connect with her visually. I even smiled warmly at her! I had already carried out the consequence and could carry on with classs, including this student. Hopefully I continued to communicate to her, and the class, that mistakes are ok, even when there are unpleasant consequences involved. After class she apologized, something I’ve never heard her do because she is so defensive.
    I guess the students aren’t the only ones learning 🙂

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