Thank You!

I am back and reading after a great break and thank you for keeping such a lively discussion going on without me. Who needs the old retired guy? The summer itself didn’t seem much like retirement with the workshops and all, but this fall time does. I am enjoying an unprecedented amount of mental health and am beginning to see it wasn’t me that was so crazy all those years when I was teaching, just the buildings I was in. I just needed to get baking and cooking and spending more time in my garden in this beautiful state of Colorado, which is now at its best time of year and also in (more beautiful?) Oregon on a long delayed visit with my daughter. I hope everything is going well with everyone. My main concern is with the new people, that they continue to find the support they need here at this most important time of the year. From the experienced people, I have noted the following among recent comments:

1. The discussion about doing really short stories after CWB but before getting into longer stories was brought up by James and Leah and others. Skip Crosby and I had floated this idea about five years ago but it didn’t go anywhere, which was a loss. Maybe we can get it going this time. In particular, James’ idea of creating a bunch of those ultra short stories in a collection for all of us to use caught my attention. This is the time of year to be doing that, but we don’t really have the stories at this point. Ideas on how to proceed on that idea? I should add that in my opinion this idea of shorter and leaner stories might qualify for “Strategy of the Year” this year along with interactive whiteboards. Maybe if you have any done you could send them to me and I can at least add them to the “Story Scripts, Simple” category for starters, and eventually we might have a collection of powerful two or three line stories (in three locations with underlined variables, targeting specific verbs or not, however we want to handle that) to use not just at this time but at any time of year.

2. Nathaniel’s question about what a structure is seemed very important to me. That was a good discussion y’all got going. My view mirrors what Grant said about a structure being a word chunk that might or might now include a pronoun in it. A classic chunk in my mind is from a Matava story – veut l’ouvrir/wants to open it. That structure contains two verbs but really there is just one concept there. The point was also made that we can of course use individual words as target structures especially at the lower levels, but also, perhaps more often at the higher levels, instead focus on target chunks of comprehensible CI. My view of what a structure is can be compared to an image of throwing a ball to someone. If it is too big and heavy, with too many words in it, the person can’t catch it. If it is too small, like a single preposition, then it is too light and goes by the person too fast and the person will miss it for that reason. It has to be “catchable” to be a structure.

3. I have some reports from the field (from Robert and Jeff and others) which I will publish as articles forthwith. Thank you for those and please send more. We will succeed at this through the help and society of each other.

4. I also want to bring up a new thread at some point this fall, sooner than later, on classroom management. A lot (too many) of the emails I have gotten lately privately tell me that many of us, not all but many, are not managing our classrooms with enough personal power. I would invite a discussion about that, because without the discipline why are we even trying this approach? In particular, a rather scary thought is that when discipline and quiet focus is missing in a traditional classroom, that doesn’t seem to draw as much attention from building watchdogs and parents as when it is missing in CI classes. It’s the nature of the CI approach that it invites such criticism. Thus we simply must bring the discipline piece into our classrooms in strong and forceful yet loving ways, even if we are only just now beginning to understand what it means to exert adult emotional power over children vs. letting them exert their power on us, which is at the bottom of the discipline issue. To me this means strict enforcement of the Classroom Rules and jGR and using many of the other ideas mentioned in the “Classroom Discipline” category, like the great one where we shuffle misbehaving kids to the classrooms of colleagues (and vice versa) where the misbehaving kid has to come into our classroom immediately and sit in the back with a big football player type and be intimidated (I’m not sure where that is written up here but it is something we should all be doing right now with the real whack jobs).
If you are getting too much pushback from your students and haven’t yet spent some time reading the many articles from past years in the Classroom Discipline category, then I recommend that you do that as soon as possible. It will be time extremely well spent.

And don’t forget that feedback is invited on how to possibly get those really short stories going so that we can maybe one day have some concrete selection like Anne’s and Jim’s to choose from. That is, as James said and when James speaks I listen, a major initiative for us if we but grab it and make it work for us – the potential there is off the chart for us. In fact, I am starting to think that none of us has any right to even begin full out stories unless we do this simple little three line stories first. It could save our careers with CI – that’s how much potential is housed in this idea. We just need to get it going. I can maybe try to write a collection on my own if I can find the time, but I seem more busy than ever before these days!

Keep the faith, fight hard, knowing that the old way of teaching is like a dull stone next to the diamonds that we have discovered. We just have to keep digging, and we will, I know it, even as the year enters into the unavoidable time when the excitement is over and the real problems start to rear their ugly heads. Be strong, be brave.



10 thoughts on “Thank You!”

  1. As a newcomer, I am very intrigued by the short short stories. I feel like I have been doing pretty well with CWB, but I am getting ready to move on. I’ve noticed that in some classes, little scenes are starting to just appear and it is amazing! I feel like I’m seeing glimpses of diamonds! Longer stories seem intimidating, so please help the short stories come my way! Merci~

  2. Actually those little scenes are going to be the short stories you want. What you describe there Emeka is exactly what I had in mind in using the term “Extended PQA” in PQA in a Wink!. A little scene will naturally grow out of the questioning (this tells you that you are doing everything right, by the way) and you must pounce on that scene to extend it from a one line static image to a two or three or four line moving image. Try it. See what happens and report back. If you are blocked in the moment that a scene appears and want to turn the picture you have into a nice crisp and short film in the minds of the students, get an actor up, for sure, as we know how powerful that one move can be in a CI class. Also think about what Laurie has suggested about finding a contrasting verb, to create tension. Throw that in there (nothing more because just that one new verb will send them reeling unless you really go for a ton of reps when you introduce it). But this is such a great question. I have always felt that FLOW is the secret to all of this CI stuff, and you now have a chance to test that premise. Let’s try to turn your question into a thread. Taking a photo and turning it into a little film is at the heart of this work, and you are now ready to step deeper into the wonderful flowing waters of CI. Yea!

  3. The hardest thing to figure out sometimes is which “structures” to pick!! So I need a strategy!! The one that works most often for me is cause and effect. This week I wanted to do “gets tired” so I have been brainstorming:

    First…what causes “gets tired”: works too much, works out too much, too much homework…and the phrase that kept popping up??? Too Much!!! I could have also gone with can’t fall asleep, doesn’t sleep well, has too much to do…..etc.

    Then I thought about what “gets tired” causes: falls asleep, makes mistakes, is confused, and frankly…I didn’t come up with anything interesting….but…I took that to the kids!! PQA about being tired….and that lead to some great personalized stuff about being grumpy, drinking TOO MUCH coffee/energy drink , forgetting a driver’s test…all kinds of great things!

    Another strategy is to use the first question that every kid asks: Why??? in order to connect “structures” in a way that makes sense for a story.

    In Level 3 I wanted to use “never gives up”.

    Student keeps calling to win tickets to a concert from a local radio station. Doesn’t win but doesn’t give up. Why?? and the brainstorming went like this: World’s biggest fan? Wants to go to his billionth concert? Is lacking a gift for his grandmother? (I went with this one and kids loved it She wanted to see Styx !) and again…if I can’t come up with something I like for a second structure, I just go in with the first one and take a great one from the kids.

    Just those two options have saved me many times. It’s about seeing the relationships and natural consequences that might arise from, or in order to produce, the structure that you have chosen. :o)

    with love,

  4. Thank you, Laurie. As a follow-up, what led you to choose “gets tired” and “never gives up.” And I ask this because I think that is where I have often gotten bogged down.

  5. Nathaniel,

    First, let me say that we are blessed to have, at least right now, total control over what we teach and when. Our curriculum is designed to include a daily calendar time, class stories, songs, movies and novels along with other activities that support the ‘unit” that we are in.

    I chose those two structures because they appear in songs that I am using. ( No me doy por vencido by Luis Fonsi and No te rindas by Mana) I’m leading into a unit where we will watching In the Time of the Butterflies and read Felipe Alou/Suen~os de la Isla and also watch Pelotero. ( Each of our levels has a “theme” and the theme for Level 3 is “Facing Challenges”. )

    It’s so interesting to me how things connect. I’ve been putting a quote up each day that I find on Pinterest and the other day I had a quote up by Nelson Mandela…..only to find out that over half of my juniors didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was!!!!! So today we spent the period talking about Nelson Mandela in Spanish. Now these kids also had read Night by Ellie Wiesel last year so we connected that as well.

    One of our staff members was diagnosed w/ breast cancer just about the same time that I was last year. She also had a radical mastectomy and chose to follow an aggressive diet regime in lieu of chemo or radiation. Sadly, her cancer has reoccurred. She is in her early 40’s and EXTREMELY health-conscious. As she enters her next phase of treatment, she encouraged us and her students to accept a Health Challenge, asking us to commit to at least one new healthy habit while she is in treatment. (AMAZING WOMAN!)

    So, even though I had chosen these structures, and these songs, prior to all of this happening, they now carry new significance.

    To be honest, songs are often my go to for high frequency vocab. That’s just a personal choice and it has been very practical for me.

    Don’t worry too much over choosing the “right” structures. It’s good to know what is expected according to your district/colleagues. But other than that….. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to choose structures!! If you can use them with the kids, they are right. Period. I know that it doesn’t seem possible for it to be that simple…but it truly is.

    Your students are not actually acquiring “structures”. They are acquiring language…..and any language you use will do the trick!!

    with love,

    1. Hi Laurie,

      thanks for that. Your comment about choosing structures got me thinking about a recurring experience I had last year. In the end, the pupils points were always the same. They commented that they can say that a chicken crossed the road, why it did this and what it wanted to do after (they didn’t actually use this example, I just felt like lightening it up a bit). For the most part, full of high frequncy stuff. But, in that class, I had neglected to show them how to introduce themselves! The stuctures just aren’t that high frequency. However, if the pupils can’t introduce themselves and keep small talk going around this topic, I feel like I have failed to give them a very real, important and funtion aspect of the language. This has lead me to conclude that: High frequency and high functionality have to influence your choices. Sometimes, a state prescribed curriculum can help here.
      What do you all think out there?
      It’s friday night, so I’m signing off now
      David aka Bilbo Underhill

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