Candy – 1

Some teachers go to conferences and collect new activities like candy. They have big bags of activities that they lug around, with candy spilling all over the place. After ten years, the bags are too full to even pick up.
It’s not about collecting activities. It’s about having a system – a process – for delivering comprehensible input so that we don’t get all confused about which candy activities to use on any given day.
Dropping all the candy and embracing language teaching as a natural and unpredictable sugar free process not only aligns perfectly with the research and the standards, it also brings flow and confidence into the classroom. How nice!
The language teacher of the future will not plan. There just isn’t a need. In that fact lies their guaranteed success on every level of instruction and personal mental health.
When we can “plug and play” each class we teach by using an interesting and fun system, the result is instruction that makes all the old stressors associated with teaching a foreign language disappear, and things become brighter.
They have become brighter for Tina and I because – to redirect the discussion here as we will from time to time back to the purpose of this website – we no longer work with:
(1) Non-embedded TPR* (TPR that is not integrated naturally into the story via the phrase “Class, show me [whatever verb just happened]”.
(2) Targets
(3) Massed reps (of targets)
(4) Heavy circling
(5) Reading up**
(6) PQA – it didn’t take long for the kids to see that I was asking them personalized questions merely in order to try to teach them a structure.
Establishing meaning is not necessary if we are teaching slowly enough and the context is interesting. What I mean here by “establishing meaning” is the practice of targeting structures and saying what they mean before starting the story, because of course in truth we are always establishing meaning as we go along through the story.
(7) Having kids supply cute answers (puts stress on them, favors the louder, bolder, and more socially gifted students (linked to privilege), thus dividing the classroom among the haves and the have nots.
(8) Class reading of novels (because that is a school thing and leads to rule by the few). I suggest that we never do a single novel in Level 1 anymore, except maybe those really good easy ones Carol has been coming out with in the past few years. So what do we read? Just our own class created stories. They are more interesting to the kids. I find that when I do it that way some kids in Level 2 choose Level 3/4 books and some choose Level 1 books, as per their own processing speed. It’s all a big plan to reduce stress in the classroom and fight hard for the most important thing in a school classroom – equity and no stress learning and no stress teaching. If the kids were to start each class of the year with 10′ of SSR, our yearly workload would go down by 20%. If we did the Word Chunk Team Game on Fridays all year, that is another 20% reduction in our workload. Then if we were to plan the last final seven or eight weeks around projects (since that is what happens in many other classes) we would reduce our work load even more. That is Tina’s idea. We should all have a long look at our paychecks and think about how we do all that extra work. For what? Our students need 10,000 hours of input to gain command over the language, and we have 125 hours X 4 years in a four year program, and that gives us 1/20 of the time we need to get to those 10,000. I mentioned this to Miguel Soto in a comment here this morning. I guess we could work ourselves into a burnout if we want. But I wouldn’t. I had six big burnouts in my long career. They were enough. Family and rest comes first for me now. And as soon as we get one principal impressed, they leave and we have to do it all again anyway, right?
(8) Using celebrities in stories. I don’t know or care who they are, and many of my kid don’t either. Who is Justin Bieber drinking Cheerwine on the beach with? I simply don’t care. It’s about a section of the class – the kids who know the celebrities – running the class again. Why not make our own characters up? It’s much more fun!
(9) Feeling as if I had to do a story even when I wasn’t having the best day. I always felt pressure to do stories even when I didn’t want to.
(10) Trying to finish a story that was too long. Long stories only stay long bc of the few kids of privilege who turn the class into THEIR class bc they have the social skills, learned them at home where the other kids didn’t because of poverty).
(11) Not having a safe set of golden rails for my CI train to go down.
(12) Dominance of the classroom by the few bc of the targeting of lists (high frequency lists, thematic unit word lists, semantic set lists, lists of words taken from chapters in novels for backwards planning, TPR lists).
(13) Being cute. I can’t be cute anymore. There is nothing in the research on CI that indicates that cuteness is a requisite ingredient of good foreign language teaching. An example is cuing of any kind, like the “Ohhhh!” thing. Or the “Oh no oh no oh me oh my!” thing. I’m even thinking of giving up the Mais bleater. When we cue them, it is like controlling them. That’s not what I want to do. I want to let interesting input drive the class. Each student will respond in their own way, how they would in a free and open conversation.
(14) Cuing kids to do the “Ohhhh!” move. Some of the kids have no idea what they are “Ohhhing” about anyway, but, more importantly, we are taking away the right of the kid to listen in a quiet and relaxed and focused way and turning them into a kind of performing animal. It’s manipulation and distracts their focus.
(15) Making the kids create a six panel drawing of a story when they are only in level 1. I think that this is too much for them. Rather, I advocate level 1 classes making two panels (problem and solution), level 2 can do 4 panels on their drawing, level 3 can do the six panels, and level 4 can maybe do 8 panels.
*Tina and I only do light TPR in stories. TPR always seemed artificial and kind of lame to us. Like circling and gesturing, it brings up that conscious learning factor in the moments of comprehension, which removes the flow of focus only on meaning. We make moment-by-moment instructional decisions very much on intuition and process, and circling and gesturing and also TPR, in our opinion, should be done lightly during instruction, and only lightly, so that the supremely important focus on meaning – which alone drives acquisition – can be left uninterrupted and unfettered and unintellecutalized.
**Reading up is where the teachers hand the kids books that they can’t read. I haven’t done it for almost eight years now. When it is in the form of a class novel, it is especially onerous to the students who come from less privileged backgrounds. Now we just do SSR/FVR to start class for ten minutes. They read what they want from a pile of books on a table. The feeling for over the half of the kids when we do class novels is like standing under a cherry tree and being told to jump up to get the cherries. Some can’t jump as high as others. This reduces equity and inclusion in the classroom and divides the class. It is the teacher’s job to pull the branch down so that all the kids can easily do the classroom assignments and thus make it effortless for them, because that is what the research says how we acquire languages – when it is literally effortless. So I say we need to implement more “reading down” in our classes.
In conclusion, the work Tina and I are advocating now is very different from TPRS, although it contains its DNA and we must state that we will always be indebted to the brilliance of Blaine and Dr. Krashen and Susan Gross and the other great leaders who brought comprehensible input into foreign language classrooms in the late part of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries.
For those who read to the end of this post, know that this is is just a gentle reminder that mentioning stuff on this site about things mentioned on the long list above – those TPRS things – is not the goal of this site. Somebody mentioned a popular TPRS novel here yesterday. OK, but we really want to talk about non-targeted, free-style, stress free, no planning CI here mainly.
That, for Tina and I and many of us here on this site and on my PLC, is where we want to put our focus. Hoarding in our classroom closets big bags of candy that quickly becomes stale each year is not what we want to talk about here. We want to talk about language teaching in classrooms where the closets and the closets of the teachers’ minds as well are emptied of all old trash, old worksheets (unless we are using them to redirect errant classes), old karma, old fear-filled teaching, sad old thinking that if we just go to enough conferences and buy enough stuff that we will become better teachers. Tina and I don’t think it works that way. We think that the only way we will become better teachers, and we have had this conversation a hundred times, is to become less stressed and that means giving up the idea of language teaching as anything more than a natural flowing process that we cannot prepare for but must just experience in love and lighthearted happiness every day of the year, so that our jobs become what they were meant to be, things that support our lives and not things that wear them down.
 

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27 thoughts on “Candy – 1”

  1. Wow, you hit on much of what has been in my mind the past few weeks. I felt like I started out strong this year giving CI a try. Watching Tina’s videos and reading this blog have been so helpful! A few weeks ago, i felt overwhelmed and took a break from looking at anything online CI. I had 2 students complaining about my class being too easy (so easy to focus on the couple of negative comments!) and I fell of the CI wagon a bit. So, reading this and many of the posts on the CI facebook page have given me renewed confidence to try again with a focus on more simple consistency. I know it’s going to take time…
    Thanks.

    1. Great post Krista. You actually guessed my professional nickname name of 40 years:
      “So Easy to Focus on the Couple of Negative Comments”
      What is up with that? As they say, even bad CI is far better than what we did before….

    2. Krista,
      I’ve had a very similar process this year and really identify with your comment. My favorite line that I’m going to write down is this, “renewed confidence to try again with a focus on more simple consistency.”
      Thank you for sharing this–I’m sure I’m not the only one who may need this!

  2. It’s interesting that recently I picked up an old TPRS Blaine Ray VHS tape on Ebay about “mini-stories” This was from like 1998.
    The method back then looked a lot like Story-Listening with some TPR mixed in.
    Things evolve and when they do the people who have the previous method complain. You can find online that the TPR people were criticizing TPR Storytelling as not the way to go, meanwhile the TPRS people were saying that just pure TPR is too boring.
    If people don’t experiment and question there is no progress.

  3. Timely post…I have spent the last month throwing out 20 years’ worth of boxes of “candy”. Activities, projects, games, etc, that I thought I would use again “someday”. I finally decided to trash it ALL. It is a waste of time and not effective. It is GONE and I feel so much lighter! Can I get an Amen? No regrets.

    1. I tried that one year. That was the year I ended up with the worst class on record. I started doing the countdown to the end of the year before Halloween. They had administrative support, and I was wishing I had some worksheets to give them. Apart from that…No regrets.

        1. You are right, Ryann. That was 11 years ago. The cloud is a mushroom now. You spoke very wisely to yourself and there is more clutter that I have never used. Time to recycle. I still hope you never get the offspring of the group I had that year.

    2. AMEN RYANN!!! YES YES YES AMEN HALLELUJAH!!!!
      I need to hear this over and over. I have done an ok job at tossing stuff. And I still need to purge MORE! All of my “someday” mindset is rooted in insecurity. I need to stare that down and just let go. Paper makes me queasy. And I suck at organizing. Especially organizing, finding and keeping papers. Ugh. And yet for some reason I hang on to stuff. It all seems to start when I leave sub plans. I panic and my default sub plan is a ream of worksheets. Ugh. And the reason I do that is fear. Fear rooted in the good ole “what will other teachers think if I don’t leave them something concrete and school-ish?”
      I have been gone a lot this year, starting the first week (all fun stuff! family and friend events, definitely no regrets there bucking the culture of sacrifice “for the kids.”). When I left the first time I had very simple Senor Wooly assignments. No paper! But then I got criticized for “not leaving enough stuff to do” and also ” the internet didn’t work” or “the passwords …blah blah ” so I cannot leave technology for them.
      The next time I was gone I left Invisibles drawing and writing, but clearly did not explaint that fully and only a couple kids did anything remotely worthwhile. Then I felt trapped so I encumbered myself and the students in order to comfort the sub. 80 mins is a long time. It goes by quickly when I am here but for a sub, not so much.
      So…new paperless, tech-free sub plan for 80 min classes? 1) chime time silent meditation 2) 20 min free reading 3)whole group circle time in English or Spanish These first 3 activities help keep our routine. Then…4)10 min free write in Spanish 3) 20 min invisibles drawing and/or writing Any of these can be expanded if students want to keep going on them. If there is extra time they can read more or play non-tech games in small or large groups. Cards, board games, etc.
      I’d love help establishing a clear concise simple sub plan! For me this is where my candy-hoarding kicks in. Would love to go sugar free on the sub plan! Thanks in advance!

      1. I agree w dumping the tech stuff on sub days. Glad to know I’m not alone on the password/tech thing. Once I taught a story with Krashen in my room and it went well and then the way I had planned it was to use project a story so he could see both the story and a reading in the next class pd. and so of course I was standing there next to the machine and it didn’t feel like working. So I had to get Annick from across the hallway and it cost 20 or more min. – felt like an eternity – w Krashen just sitting there. Of course there was a crowd of district ppl w him so eventually he held court with them but I really wanted to show him my reading options and couldn’t. (As it turned out two years later he read them and didn’t like half of them bc they “didn’t align” w his research – and he explained why in each case – to which I retorted the only pissy email I have ever sent to him – he really is a gentleman – telling him bluntly that he might not always align w his research if he ever tried teaching in a high school himself.) So jen in my opinion what to do on sub days is first input – reading as you do. My simple vision is to start w the usual SSR ten min. but make it fifteen, then just let them draw characters for the rest of the period. Then maybe score each other’s characters (this is something new I just thought of doing) and sharing why they gave it that score w the sub and their peers and then you have to start the next story w the one they picked as a group w the sub when you return. It bonds the group in a common activity with a goal to win your approval. So really they start drawing for 20-25 min. to finish the period (singly or in groups of two). The kids may even need two such periods to finish just one character so I got in the habit (too) late in my career to always take two sub days at a time even if I only needed one bc it was only late in my career that I realized that I wasn’t there in that school to get my kids to learn a lot of French but to earn living and take care of my family and that meant taking care of myself and that meant using all those extra sub days I had collected along the way because I was such a fine employee. (I rue that – spending most of my career being the best I could for someone else but not myself). My conclusion after 40 years of bullshitty sub plans is that kids like to be allowed to not do busywork and just hang out together in little groups in some light little activity and I see that as community building. (I would not let groups of larger than two create a character together.) It would be nice if Textivate could be used on a sub day but it just can’t. Too many passwords like you said and such cranky kids. Poor subs!

        1. I have to be gone for a day this week for a training, and I am having them read, then share in groups, and then I am leaving several comic templates (those ones from Mike Peto) that have stories written out from ones my other classes have done. I made several copies of each, and they will be picking a story and illustrating so they will be reading each others’ class stories and I will hopefully get some good ones for my SSR library.

          1. My problem was also organizing…I couldn’t figure out where to keep things, how to keep them organized and I had several large boxes and file drawers on my organizing to-do list. Felt really great to toss it all. I can search online and find the good stuff or better stuff if I absolutely need it later.

          2. For me sub days are no worry days for all. In our district subs get paid SOOO little that there are very few, very old, very friendly people who want to come and watch teenage dysfunction.
            Subs basically sit at my desk and, no matter what I’ve prepared, have the kids do nothing or a very different version of anything I’ve left.
            So, I stopped preparing ANYTHING, even the above mentioned group characters. NADA DE NADA.
            I leave out a few movies, an old computer of mine that I brought that has no password with a dvd drive and let students pick from a very limited and uninteresting choice of movies–live with it.
            Everyone is very happy.
            Admin can’t say anything until they hire able people (no offense intended).

          3. There is a tone of humor amidst the sad situation that you describe there in Maine, Laura. I’ve often thought about it – the way tens of thousands of teacher sick days are taken each day in the U.S. – for excellent reasons – and the way the schools react, not just there in Maine. It’s kind of comical, but it sends a bad message to kids, like they are not important and can’t be trusted to leave the room and maybe even do something worthwhile, something that helps them… the entire system of subbing is just so rotten, like a kind of scene one would see in a prison.

        2. I find Textivate to be brilliant on sub days.
          Super-minimal prep, I can track if they did it, and password-forgetting becomes a non-issue, thanks to one of a few possible solutions:
          1) Post student passwords on Google Classroom
          2) Copy/paste the list of passwords and leave for the sub
          3) Create a “challenge” and all they need is the ONE class password and a team name.
          Probably other ways, but again, really it has been a serious time/mind/life-saver.

    3. AMEN! I was “trained” through a into, through and beyond approach that gradually releases students. It was all thematic activities with a final unit project or presentation. All those activities required excessive planning, copies and cutting out cards etc… I can’t believe that this in STILL EN VOGUE in my district. It like the common language at the district. No fun for the teacher and the students acquire very little–well, they acquire words not on the vocab list!

      1. Good, Steven.
        I have decided it is not necessarily the themes that are bad as long as there is enough allowance for student selected vocab and an emergent approach to what occurs under the rubric of the “theme.” My theme in Fr 1 is “description.” Or maybe is “being kind to others.” Or making a place for others. Anyway, that has meant doing card talk and class created images. Student-created images will be next. The next theme to transition into will be conflict resolution (empathizing with others) and plot development (sustaining interest).
        My Spanish 2s are tied to the Avancemos 2 book. I think the overriding theme is atomization of language–if they break it down anymore it will be Duolingo and probably more effective. But the chapter title is about travel. I know it is surrealistic to have just come from summer vacation and hope into a review of the present tense in order to plan a vacation. Anyway, my sense of frustration about the sub-atomic micromanaging of a theme led me to the theme of the journey.
        I do not know how that will help me with the Avanshackles book, but it gave me an idea for my Sp 4 midyear exam.
        Sp 4 is thought of as an AP prep course. So, I reasoned, What do they need? After two straight years grammar, lists, and projects…
        And let me make my second point here. It was through reflection on what I had heard was happening in their previous classes that I realized that projects are the EN VOGUE are a hyped up form of grammar translation. Give them the grammar and the lists and cobble together a tri-fold with the help of google-translate (well, the last part is not in the project description, it’s just a coping mechanism).
        …so after two years of g, l, and p, I figured they needed a lot of listening, interacting, and reading (reading, not mentally translating to English to understand what they are decoding). I started with the easiest of the books for which we have class sets: Berto y sus buenas ideas. This was not FVR because, although they have been reading and the books are free (did not cost them a dime), they cannot voluntarily choose what to read–not yet, anyway. It is Sustained and Silent, though. After Berto, they progressed to Pobre Ana and then up the line. They are currently on their fifth (The trip of their life) or sixth book (A car of his own). Accountability? One sentence summary in English and notion of new words. This makes it feel and look academic while maximizing the amount of time for reading input (This is Beniko’s thinking). So they are getting the input. How do I get that into a mid-year exam?
        The journey theme. In each of those there is a journey. Ben’s characters are a bunch of teenage Ulysses who leave the comfortable surroundings, go away on an odyssey, and returned changed. They are a menagerie of Gullivers, of 80-day-world-rounder-wonders, and Kings and Queens of Narnia who return to their comforted, somewhat discomforted, but not totally discomfitted, and better fitted for responsibility in their somewhat mundane lives.
        Well, I kind of got off the candy stick theme and maybe this is only related to your comments Steven, and maybe just weakly so at that.

  4. You get one amen for each useless activity you tossed. The whole declutter movement. Wow. Some of the stuff I used to collect, and I didn’t know paper could do this, started smelling at about the four year point of hoarding it.

  5. “Using celebrities in stories.” I never felt comfortable with this. I never watched their movies, could not recognize them in a line-up, did not know who their last three spouses were, now how many people they had abused.
    But to Blaine’s credit, his goal, as I understood it, was to take the kids heroes and make them the heroes of their heroes.

  6. “When we can “plug and play” each class we teach by using an interesting and fun system, the result is instruction that makes all the old stressors associated with teaching a foreign language disappear, and things become brighter.”
    Agree. Less is more. Then there’s the bail out moves to create filler for newbie CI teachers. I know I did that a lot the first year and a half years.
    “The language teacher of the future will not plan. There just isn’t a need.” Agreed as well. To me that has made it way more organic and personal. Teachers are permitted to reach out more AND students are as well.
    For assessments, I use a quick exit ticket on students’ devices (we are basically 1:1). Otherwise students can write in down. This is to check the box checked. This week we are taking a break from it right before thanksgiving vacation (we get 10 days). Right before any vacation, it is important to taper off the assessments and really just maintain the classroom expectations. That plus keeping the CI compelling is WORK ENOUGH.

  7. Alisa Shapiro-Rosenberg

    Sub days in elementary WL is majorly anxiety producing cuz in general we cannot resort to reading – it all needs to be so scaffolded and they generally can’t sustain for more that say 15 min…
    Mostly the subs don’t speak Spanish, occasionally I’ll get one that thinks she does and I’ll find all kinds of weird forced output on Post It’s – one sub, bless her heart, had the 2nd graders both watch the movie in Spanish w/English subtitles (as I asked) AND have them write down any words they recognized on a Post-It in real time – then she shut down the movie half way through so that these 8 yr olds could look at all the unrelated isolated post its and translate them…NO I AM NOT KIDDING – she was so proud of her quilt-like opus that she left it on the board for me to find the next day…next time she was in the building she asked me what I thought – so I gave her the straight scoop and needless to say she hasn’t signed up for my classroom since.
    But usu my real-estate sells high & quickly cuz all I really want is someone to screen the same 30- min segment in Spanish w/English subtitles over and over and over….and keep everyone safe.

  8. …I’ll get one that thinks she does….[speak Spanish] – Ain’t that the truth. And even if they speak it, they can’t teach it, like you say trying to force output, etc.

  9. I do Senor Wooly’s nuggets on sub days. (Only missed two days this year due to PD). It’s easy to assign and my school has Hapara so we can lock the kids into the activities. Kids are begging me to rewatch the Senor Wooly videos. This is all because I took Tina’s advice of “No tech till November”. I also am using Senor Wooly stuff very sparingly so I have an arsenal of stuff if I ever have an emergency.
    Another sub option is the “Dreaming Spanish” Youtube channel. He does storylistening. Have the kids watch those videos and answer questions in English about what they understood.
    In my school technology stuff on sub days works the best. Otherwise you have to get other people to make copies and stuff like that.

    1. Greg, I also use the “Dreaming Spanish” channel, although I haven’t used it for sub days as I’m afraid that will be the day that the wifi is wonky or something else goes wrong with tech. However, I think they would be great for sub days. I’ve used them as “tweener” activities or on days where I want to save my voice a bit.

  10. So, in essence, we are to shift our mindset from stockpiling a mega-warehouse of candy and try to hone our foraging instincts to find those chanterelles, morels and other such precious “student-directed-emergent-and-pop-up-language-fungi” that happen in our classes naturally, so that our instruction/facilitation in NT is TRUFFLED (if I may so use one of my favorite French descriptors) with a rich, organic quality that is hard to resist, even by the most finicky of mushroom-hating, candy-loving students.
    I mean, the mushrooms are out there. But we have lost our foraging instincts in some way perhaps, and we need to trust that we will find them, and NT seems to allow us the freedom to do that and trust that.
    Easier said sometimes than done.
    Easier to know that you can count on a warehouse of stockpiled treats & eats but who can sustain a healthy language-aquisition diet on a steady stream of fly-swatter vocab et. al?
    I guess we just need to be willing to let go of that controlled stockpile of candy as our go-to staple.
    Of course, holding to the maxim of “COMPELLING” input as key, I think that a delicious piece of candy every once in a while, especially a tried and true one for the particular group you are facing, is to be allowed, but again, not as the staple.

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