Traditionally Trained Kids – 4

This is a repost from 2013 that fits in with the thread started this morning by Wileen and John about teaching traditionally trained kids:

Q. In your new book you mentioned the agony in trying to use TPRS with the kids who have been trained by worksheets and memorization. However, you didn’t mention what you do instead to teach them. Any ideas?

A. There are posts on this. Teachers in this group respond in different ways. I advocate doing about ten minutes a day of CI, just doing some low grade talking to them, and then teaching traditionally the rest of the time.

I advocate not announcing a thing about CI to those kids. It must be kept quiet that you are doing something new and different. If you say it is a new way of teaching they will lock in, strap themselves into their desks and challenge you to change what to them is best practices, best to them because they got an A and gamed their previous traditional teacher by doing projects and memorizing.

We cannot blame a child who has gotten away without having to actually activate their brain for real in their classes for years. So give them what they want, make no big announcements, teach using the book or whatever you used to do, but sneak in those five or ten minutes a day of CWB or build a OWI with them and slowly those ten minutes of just talking to them, so hidden in the rest of what they think is real teaching (grammar sheets, etc.) will become the part of class that they like.

Extending a nice funny little five minute scene from a Circling with Balls card, where Becky ends up doing yoga behind McDonald’s with Jay-Z, becomes valuable to the kids and they don’t know why and slowly you bring in more CI.

That is my only suggestion because this is a tough one. The most practical answer is not to use CI at all. My mistake when I tried to transition a spoiled group of rich white kids at East High School in Denver was to go all hog wild with it and they almost recoiled into the walls with fear of having to actually interact with me on a human level. Even though I brought donuts.

Only three of the twenty two kids could play and we had a little class of four people, those three and me, doing CI while the rest fumed doing their worksheets and eventually I caved, the energy was just so dark in response to my enthusiasm for this way of teaching.

It was a dark period in my professional life. Their hovering parents (hovering to protect and guarantee the A that they needed for college) put extreme pressure on me. I had more than one parent meeting in which I was attacked for the way I taught and had to defend and I am not good at that even though we have made strides in that area as a group over the past few years.

I passed all those kids with good grades for the busy work I ended up giving them because I just couldn’t take it emotionally. It is hard to write about even now four years later. At that time I had other classes with level one kids of 35 and there were 504 ADD/ADHD kids in some of the classes. It was so hard. I had to let the fourth year kids win.

I feel so bad about all that now as I look back and my big mistake was to announce what I was doing which immediately turned them off. So my current advice, and others on the blog might also want to share what they do, is to cool it and not let them know you are doing CI. This is no small question and less wounded CI teachers may respond differently.



4 thoughts on “Traditionally Trained Kids – 4”

  1. My experience was the opposite: the kids liked TPRS way more than old school. The lack of hwk and epic tests also helped, as did the lack of idiotic grammar worksheets. However, in Canada, there is none of this grading madness that the U.S. has, and basically zero of this “district mandated vocab/lesson plans/online reporting” bla bla, so people are less locked into their little cut-and-measure thing. Kids seem to be open, as long as they are getting somewhere, to trying new stuff. But that’s just my context.


  2. This repost is very helpful to me. I can empathize with the situation with the spoiled kids that you describe in Denver, but I am hopeful that a situation like Chris describes will be possible too. I like the idea of a little CI at a time, slowly winning them over, slowly showing them that there are other (better) ways of learning a language without ever directly telling them that this is a different (better) way to learn a language. Thanks!

  3. I also had a tremendous response from the kids. I had one or two who looked at me like a crazy woman when I said no worksheets but they got used to it really fast. Especially when they could suddenly speak. These students had only one year of Spanish when I got them(actually less when you eliminate testing days and other trips,etc.).

    I had them fill out some evaluation forms for me AFTER a serious discussion on constructive criticism. I got very few negative responses and the ones I got I would have to say came from my greenhorn status with TPRS.

    My Spanish 3 students absolutely loved it and really opened up more as the year progressed. am so proud of them adjusting to change. That is what life is all about, right?

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