Ugly Classes

John has a question for the group that some of us may be able to relate to:

My question for the group is, what do you do when you are faced with an ugly class? I can’t think of any other word to describe this class, except ugly. It’s ugly in there almost every day. The energy is negative, pervaded by ego, competitiveness, desire to be stimulated through meaningless exercises which they perceive as learning, cynicism, and a perception of me as not rigorous and not having much authority, intellectual or otherwise. The restlessness emerges with a resistance to anything I ask them to do because it is not perceived as rigorous, and then the students make this an excuse for side talking, getting out their phones, and screwing around in general. This is coming from high performers who have little motivation, and no love for the subject. Kids who struggle need me to slow down, but also have a certain amount of lethargy and do not rise to challenges, and are distracted by the others when they are “done” with an activity. They need me to do reps and reading activities, when the high performers have already translated the highest level of the story perfectly on day 2.

My default these days is to do what I have to do to get through this class, be it group work, silent reading (which is almost impossible to enforce), worksheets, anything to keep them slightly on task, and engage them as little as possible (which is also cowardly on my part). My authority is tested every 3 to 5 minutes in this class, and because I am a new teacher at this school, and because I did not put a JGR in place (due to uncertainty about the department’s policy on “behavior” grades, and because I am completely overwhelmed with the prospect of grading 150 students every day, and simply can’t come up with enough daily accountability activities much less grade them), I am kind of stuck. My goal is simply to deliver content consistently in a non-chaotic environment, and I rarely meet that. If I had an administrator pop in (which I almost certainly will as a new teacher) I’d be screwed. Parents of the 4%ers are complaining, and some of their criticisms are spot-on. Luckily admin has my back, but I’m not teaching effectively to this class.

I must add that this is the front line of a cultural shift from their previous teacher who was the most old-school ever. These are sophomores, and this is only one out of 5, and I am winning over, or have already won over the other 4 (even the other sophomore class, which is has much more positive energy). So it is not as bad as it could be. However, this is a huge daily challenge for me, and I’m pretty stumped. Any suggestions that would tighten up the class procedures, expectations for all, and not add to my workload of grading, prep, assessment, would be greatly appreciated.

John

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36 thoughts on “Ugly Classes”

  1. Wow, that sounds just like my 8th graders last year minus the desire for rigorous work! That was a dark half of the year for sure.

    “…and engage them as little as possible…”

    That sounds so familiar. With my 8th graders, I felt like we were imprisoned in the same room and neither of us really wanted to see each other. I tried my hardest to smile while still requiring engagement but I couldn’t keep it up. It was partially my newness to the CI approach but also the group dynamic – the negative energy and competitiveness that you mention, John. Many of the kids were too scared to raise their heads above the crowd due to a few alpha-male and alpha-female characters. I eventually threw the book at them and counted down until the schedule changed after christmas.

    One thing I wish I had done was to gather lots of pictures from the internet that matched up with their surveys/student interest inventories and tried some L&D. A workflow of Establishing meaning –> L&D/spinning out some PQA –> Quiz –> Dictation could’ve held water. Heck, the kids could’ve gotten me some pictures and saved them onto the school network.

    Oh, and there’s one thing that both Ben and Diane said about jGR that really resonated with me. It was along the lines of “kids who are contributing positively to the atmosphere of the class and engaging with the language roughly get As, kids who are passive roughly get Bs, and kids who contribute negatively get Cs/Ds depending on their actions.” (Please correct me if I’ve misquoted either of you two!)

    Keeping that in mind made it a bit easier to assign jGR marks for big classes.

    I hope this helps, John. I tend to ramble at the drop of a hat.

    1. Jason Bond! Hello! Na bi gorach and blasda still stuck with me all this time. (Scottish Gaelic from Jason’s demo teaching last summer.)

      You’re correct about how I use jGR grades (A, B, C level or below). C work for me means doing some positive responses but mixed with mentally checking out and/or talking in English inappropriately.

      Others in the group are more strict about it, but with my student populations a C is like an F. One idea for assigning grades to a big class is to give them B by default, and lower or raise it if you notice additional contributions.

      1. I’m glad someone else is as ‘lenient’ as I am. I don’t give 0’s for anything other than a missing assignment. On the backs of their quiz sheets, I have three statements for students’ jGR grades: “I listen/read to understand,” “I respond,” and “I contain my urge to speak English,” and students may circle Always, Sometimes, or Never, which in my mind are an A, C, or F. I average their responses after making sure they square up with my observations, so most students get Bs or Cs. Very few are truly checked out enough to get an F, and even then, it’s a 60.

        I love the simplicity of this system, and I think that the slightly inflated jGR grades make up for missing a question or two on a quiz (because those are NOT inflated).

        As for the original question-asker: I have had classes like that. It didn’t get better until I started enforcing daily quizzes and jGR. Dictation for focus/quiet/perception of grammar instruction.

  2. Jason you don’t ramble enough and I am sure that I am not alone in saying that lots of us miss you way over there in Scotland now. Your teaching was this past summer was inspired – you have that invisible je ne sais quoi quality for this kind of work – and it makes me want to say that those kids last year must have been real shits, but of course I won’t say that because it would be inappropriate here.

    John, to me the entire ugly class thing is most often due to one or two people in the room. This has been my own experience with this kind of class, by the way, and who doesn’t have one of those, sometimes one each year? This reflects what Jason said:

    …many of the kids were too scared to raise their heads above the crowd due to a few alpha-male and alpha-female characters….

    If this is true in your situation, and it may not be, my suggestion is to go after those one or two kids with a hammer. That is, a jGR with a sharpened edge. I would use the phone, get it all out in the open (not in front of the class), have meetings with parents and admins with the offender present, and bear down until he or she breaks under your constant – daily – honest scrutiny and evaluation in the grade book of what they are not doing to the class.

    Remember when someone here a few months ago – who was that – had the brilliant idea of making the kid come up to you right at the end of class for a thirty second evaluation of that particular class in the form of a jGR ten question “quiz/self-evaluation”? That is a winning move for you right now, if in fact this is what is happening in this class.

    You said that you have 150 kids but who said you have to grade all of them all the time? They usually don’t go around after class and talk about what they got for a jGR grade. Just give a self assessment (which also serves as evidence in your parent/admin./counseling meetings), collect them as the kids leave that class, file them in the circular file, keep the one(s) you need, and use that as the hammer in the meeting. Actually I would keep and enter all of those grades into the grade book since the entire class is ugly right now.

    This class, in my view, must lead to the voluntary transferring out of the culprit, with parental support because you have done such a good job of documenting behavior in each class. We must protect our students from bullies, and my gut tells me that there is bullying going on in your classroom, it sounds as if on you as well to some extent, but these jerks fly so low under the radar that we get used by them and thus fail to confront from our position as the only adult in the room.

    We can’t just hope it gets better. We have to act and what I describe above is my suggestion about how to do that. Aside from putting a hand up on the side of their head as they used to get away with in the old days. Just kidding. Kind of. I think. Really, just a few of those kids can ruin a career. They must be stopped at all costs and their bullying behavior neutralized by their ideally choosing to leave the class.

    Once the meetings are over and the kid gets your intent (I doubt if they do now or they would have stopped their behavior), you can really let fly with phone calls, I would go to in-class direct eye to eye intimidation by me on the kid, and not rest until it was over.

    If it is NOT connected to a single kid, then it sounds as if you have a rare case of bad apples. But if you talk to a few kids who want to learn, you might find that they are just waiting for a hammer to come down on those one or two passive aggressive mongrels. Let me know if I am on or off on this, and expand a bit, so we can get more responses from the group on this extremely important question.

    1. Ben, I had this happen also. After a quiz I had them write me a message about how they felt about the class. I had them fold the paper in half and I came around to pick them up. I just wanted them to have a voice. I told them that I would not share the messages with the class. I always let them know that they can communicate with me even if they think that I don’t want to hear it. I read them and one student had written that the few students disrupting were making it hard to learn and it was really irritating. I realized that I had not had a backbone to this point and I knew that I had failed this student. So I dealt with the students that were disrupting and the one that wrote the note has come along beautifully.

      Thank you to all the posts about backbone. Whenever a disruption takes place I ask myself if I have one or not. It’s still not easy and I lose sometimes but at least I stop and recognize it for what it is.

      John, I am so sorry that you have this situation. Sometimes you just have that class. This post takes me back to a difficult time. Despite all the things you do, the backbone that you have, sometimes you just have to realize this class is different and enjoy the others. Don’t give up . They might one day come around but don’t exhaust yourself because your other students need you too. Keep teaching in a loving way but allow only activities that they can handle. I think that Ben’s advice is spot on if there are a few students standing in the way.

  3. I had a horrible Spanish 2 class this year. I narrowed it down to 3 horrible boys, all best friends. I had done everything I thought I could and had just resigned myself to ___ more weeks (block schedule), when suddenly 1 of the boys (the worst) was removed from the class! JOY! Then, I was left dealing with the other two. One is big into sports, so I threatened privately to talk to his coach. He settled. Last Thursday, I had an hour long meeting with the other boys parents. Friday was a joy. He came and apologized to me, seemingly sincerely. His parents want ongoing reports, so I’m not worried.

    Now, halfway through the semester, I feel like I need to now start over with the class. I moved away from too much pqa, it just didn’t work with how horrible those boys were and made the class. Tomorrow I feel like I’m going to start fresh, I can’t wait.

    I’d start with JGR right now. Tell them that you need to because so many aren’t learning because of their behavior. It’s your job that to make sure they know how to learn, so starting today, a big part of your grade is due to …etc. They’ll get it. Explain it to the admin if necessary, they probably won’t care. Don’t explain it as participation, whatever you do!

    Good luck, I know how horrible a bad class can be!

    1. Here is the core point to make, made by Megan. To me this it it, right here:

      …tell them that you need to [hit jGR hard now] because so many aren’t learning because of their behavior….

      I love the openness of an announcement to the class without naming any names. I have done this and it is scary but it has always worked. I say, “We’ve been having a hard time with our focus in this class and that is my fault. I apologize. I haven’t enforced the national standards interpersonal skill very well. I will now. Please expect that this week you will be asked in the last five minutes after the (first or second if you are doing the Ten Minute Deal) quiz to fill out a form in which you self evaluate how you met the standards in today’s class. Our class focus will change as of today.” And then start right in with your timer, counters, quiz writer, story writer, and whichever other jobs you have going no in your classroom and stay out of English and take off. The jobs, that self policing they create, are a big part of this as well. But as Megan indicates to just act like nothing is going on in the room is folly. Just take over the class and don’t name names and the very second that a kid tries to draw attention to him, nail his ass with a look or a word or in extreme cases, if you have a phone in your classroom, a direct call to the parents during class, where you tell them to take a break because you have to make a phone call. Then call the parent, after having contacted them previously, of course, and at least leave a message right there from class. The point of all of this is to take it to these kids, hopefully earlier than now but it’s not too late. January is too late.

      1. Yeah. I’ve done this. At the end of the disruptive class period, during a quick quiz, while all the students are quietly listening, I’ve said with a heavy, hard tone in my voice, “Class, I’ve failed at teaching today. I’ve failed because I’ve allowed myself to talk over students who continue to disrupt. This is unacceptable teaching on my part. I am ashamed. Now please give yourself a score on the jGR.”

        This is real, interpersonal communication coming from me.

        1. I have a SERIOUSLY ugly class. Literally HALF of the students are discipline problems throughout the school and/or have probation officers! Two are constantly fighting — they now have a no-contact order against each other. There are 7 boys in the class who at least one or two every day will get the toxicity going.
          Well, I have sent the two fighters to the office a couple of times, so they have been dealt with. I have spoken to one (who failed my class last year – I reminded him that he doesn’t want to do THAT again and be here for a third year!) Another I spoke to his coach and he did better and apologized for his behavior, but there is still another one who just does not “get” it. His counselor is going to be speaking to him as per Admin, because he isn’t ‘getting’ it. Dad has been contacted, and, he’sjust tough.
          I spent ALL of 1st quarter just hammering in the class rules — not much Spanish happening, but that’s OK!
          Last Monday I came in with jGR, and told them they will be grading themselves on a daily basis. I told them that I NEED them to be IN THE TL otherwise they will get absolutely NOTHING out of this class! and “I am so damn sick and tired of a few taking away the learning of others, so we are now grading ourselves on how well we can communicate with each other.”
          It has been SO quiet (actually I did this to all classes too) in ALL my classes!!! eeeek! I feel like a drill sergeant! but they are so afraid to speak! I am using Bryce’s adaptation that says they get 50% if they speak English once, 0% if they speak English 2x!!! My Admin told me Friday (when I told him about it) “GOOD FOR YOU!!! That’s one hell of a class you’ve got there!) Luckily I see them every-other-day. Today is a reprieve. (Funny though – we’ve started PQA and stories last week — one of the trouble makers was the protaganist – we talked about him and his fish. I then announced to the class on Friday, “Ok, I wrote up a story to give you something to read.” and he got a big smile on his face and said, “You wrote a story about THIS? about MY fish???” I might have won him over! 😉

          1. oh yeah – and btw Mr. Sandrock….I wouldn’t be able to do this if I was “within” a thematic unit!!!!

          2. mb, I’m afraid your success with these students might merely be an illusion. It seems like they might not be practicing their speaking enough. Are you sure you want such a quiet classroom??? I actually proud myself on having a pretty noisy classroom- my kids are having fun…that’s what language is all about! And I don’t understand why you are having them read about a classmate’s fish. As a suggestion you might have found an authentic resource, like a fable from the TL culture about a fish, or a news article about a current environmental problem with fish in the TL culture -that probably would have been a better use of the time instead of reading a story you typed up about the classmates fish. This class might not be as successful as you feel, even if it FEELS like an improvement to you.

            ^^^^^ Just in case you didn’t get any feedback from “helpful” colleagues ^^^^^

            Kidding!

            Thanks for sharing mb. Very inspiring to read your comment about turning this difficult class around and countering the toxicity from those few students. How lucky this class to have you! To make THEM the center of your instruction, and not some fraudulent grammar work, with very strict rules for who speaks when, so that they are being trained to become the beautiful class they will become with you as their leader, and leave behind the ugly habits they are starting the year with. Such lucky students! Cheers to your hard work in this situation and your dedication. I’m inspired.

          3. It’s great to hear that you were able to turn this class around, mb! It helps me think it’s possible no matter what group of kids you have, and it sounds like you had a tough group. I’m quite certain that many foreign language teachers in Chicago Public Schools, teaching in fractured communities in classes of 30+ students, can’t imagine teaching CI or staying in the TL for more than a minute. But here you are living proof that it can happen, even though it means being a drill sergeant.

            I love the Bryce thing: 50% drop in grade if English is spoken once, 0% if spoken twice.

            I don’t think we can underestimate how important it is to have our admin on our side. My admin last year was supportive, fully, of me and I felt invincible… stress free… and my teaching improved dramatically. This year, at my new school, I’m still working on getting admin on my side.

          4. JEEZ Greg!!! you scared the be-jeezus out of me!!! I thought I had posted to the wrong list! 😉 But, thank you!
            Thank you, too, Sean!! Yes, this AP is the bomb!!! he is so calm when he talks to the kids, and is seriously “their friend” but he doesn’t let anything slide! he holds them all accountable, and as I was telling my husband today, he has ALWAYS had my back and is always telling me what a great job I’m doing. (he is just VERY supportive! – albeit he’s in his upper 60s, so he’s “old school” – back in the days when teachers WERE supported, more than kids!!!)
            UPDATE: yesterday we had a fundraising meeting for sophomores…the fundraising rep used to be a teacher at our school last year. He was asking for a few teachers to come down to participate, and a bunch of the kids were yelling for ME to be one of the teachers!! He then said, “MB – I’ll have you come down later.”
            Well, when later arrived and I walked down to the stage, I saw that Mr. Fish-Boy was pumping his hand in the air for me!!! and yelling, “YaY!!! Mrs. T!!!!” — unbelievable! I *DID* make a connection with this kid — just from making him the centerpiece of last week’s story!!!

          5. MB I don’t think that would have happened if you had tried to feed Mr. Fish-Boy lots of food from the Relative Pronoun Factory and that other factory that sells the difference between Ser and Estar. You gave him real fish food – food that he could assimilate because it was about him – and look what happened. I love this story because if it can happen once it can happen in lots of classrooms, so thank you for that, and I know it took courage. But that is how we deal with problem kids who blurt in our classes all the time – we either get them out of class or we take control of the class and talk about the kid and try to win them over as you did here. One thing we cannot do is to hide in silence. The class knows exactly what is going on. Your walking down toward that stage with him clapping for you is a triumph on many levels.

            More: https://benslavic.com/blog/category/spine/

          6. MB, this story made my day. You rock, and you make a difference in more than one student’s life.

  4. Those who have been reading for a while know that I had an ugly class about four years ago. I wish that I had been as well armed then as I am now to deal with what was going on. This was before I had a good handle on jGR. I also recognize that I did not exhibit sufficient backbone in that class to deal with the problem.

    A couple of things I have done this year with my classes are the following:
    1. We had a discussion of the six levels of moral development
    1.1 I don’t want to get in trouble
    1.2 I want to get a reward
    1.3 I want to please someone
    1.4 I follow the rules
    1.5 I consider other people before I act
    1.6 I have a conscious code of behavior, and I follow it (Universal Ethical Principles)
    We talked about how school most often plays to our lowest levels of moral development, and I explained how I try to structure a class that encourages students to function at level 5 (being considerate of others). Now I will occasionally ask students at what moral level they are functioning. Rafe Esquivel in his book “Teacher Like Your Hair’s on Fire” has a good discussion of the levels of moral development as they apply in the school setting.

    2. We discussed what a true apology looks like, and I am making students practice it. The steps in issuing a true apology, as opposed to the faux-apologies most children and adults offer, are as follows:
    2.1 Identify the transgression / improper behavior (e.g. “I’m sorry I said that you were a loser”)
    2.2 State why it is wrong (e.g. “You have value, and putting people down is not nice”)
    2.3 Tell the offended person what you will do instead – this must be a statement of positive action, not simply “I won’t do it again” (e.g. “I will say things that encourage you instead”)
    2.4 Ask for forgiveness
    For this to work, it is very important that offenders not make it about themselves, e.g. they can’t say something was wrong because they will get in trouble for it. What moral principle did they transgress (e.g. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you; consider others more important than yourself)? This can easily be coupled with Michael Josephson’s Six Pillars of Character.

    Here are a couple of links –

    A Better Way to Say I’m Sorry
    http://www.cuppacocoa.com/a-better-way-to-say-sorry/

    Character Counts: Six Pillars of Character
    http://charactercounts.org/sixpillars.html

  5. John,
    I feel your pain! I had to take my 5th period class to the library and made them do “book” work for 50 minutes straight. That means, they copied the verb charts, vocab lists, and activities that I listed on a pre-printed 1/2 sheet. No one was allowed to talk and I had AP referral forms ready if anyone did talk.
    This is what I announced at the bell:
    Class, we will be going to the library today to do Spanish class the old-fashioned way. You will sit at the tables with a textbook and a piece of notebook paper that I will supply. You are to do the assignment as directed in this 1/2 sheet I will pass out once we arrive in the library. There is to be no talking and no playing around. If you have any questions you are to write them down on your paper and I will look over them later. If anyone talks you will be sent immediately to the AP’s office. (I had cleared this already with the adminz)
    I ended my speech with: we will conduct class in this manner until you are willing to show up and participate appropriately in the TPRS class.

    I did this last Tuesday…and had classes the next two days. At one point I looked at a kid who started to make a comment in English during a story and I stopped, looked him in the eye and said, “library?” He sat up straighter and zipped his mouth.

    I have 2 textbooks ready with assignments and passes to the AP office for anyone who dares to misbehave. Now it is just a matter of not letting anything slip.

    I am always amazed at how studious everyone gets when it comes to writing down stuff from a book. I think Ben said someone on the blog that we are expecting students to be humans and interact appropriately…it is a lot tougher in our setting than in the traditional worksheet/textbook scenario.

    Good luck and keep us posted. We believe in you 🙂

    Louisa

    1. I love this idea, Louisa.

      I’ve stopped class before and done an extended dictation when disruptions were out of hand, dinging students’ grades if they spoke. It worked to get students quite and on task. But I didn’t like the idea of using a dictation as a kind of punishment. Rather, simply copying vocab, or having students copy a class story, and, hell, maybe have them alphabetize the words in the story or something obnoxious like that, would be more suitably dull. Dinging them for speaking all the while.

      My current period 3 class has been an ugly one this year. One that I often dread having to face in the morning. A lot of this ugliness came about because I didn’t hit students hard enough with jGR from the beginning, including the high processing students, the students who already know lots of Spanish, and the students that generally don’t do school very well. I hadn’t laid the jGR hammer down so much because, like you John, I am new to the school and needed to get my bearings with the students and develop a rapport with admin.

      Oh, and do you have a clapper? A couple of weeks ago we had to reschedule students resulting in having 5 new students in this period 3 class. One of those students, Naudia, is someone you don’t want to mess with. She has taken that clapper and shows no mercy. Naudia and her clapper, perhaps more than anything, is helping me turn that ugly period 3 around.

      Oh, and I teach in a non-selective public school in Chicago. Many of my students really don’t care if they get a D, or an F for that matter.

      1. Scratch that, most of them do care about getting a bad grade. But it sometimes seems that how they’re viewed by their peers is infinitely more important. This is why it is so important to make the CI easy for students (as Greg was elaborating on recently on the ACTFL thread) while at the same time reigning in the kids that find it easy yet can’t control their mouths. That way students will stop thinking about playing around with their peers and more about the CI messages being delivered.

        With my ugly period 3 class recently, I’m hammering down on the jGR grade, I have Naudia, the clapper that shows no mercy, and I’ve fine-tuned my circling skills with the help of Laurie Clarq (see her circling primer under the “Primers” dropdown at the top of this page) to help me make CI easy and compelling.

    2. I used the textbook in this way with one class a few years ago. In hindsight, because I’ve kind of disregarded the textbook as a way to acquire languages, sometimes explicitly (“we don’t acquire much if any language by studying its linguistics”), and always implicitly (lies on the bottom shelf, rarely if ever used). So, when I resorted to it out of spite and desperation, it was an obvious punishment and may have undermined my professional opinion about their (i.e. textbooks’) usefulness. If I had to do it over, with an ugly class, I’d do it a bit different. I’d do dictation, followed by translation of what was dictated. I’d do oral translations (I talk they translate). I’d do tons of translations of super simple stories (LICT extended reading type stuff). When they finish, they get another one. You could even differentiate this activity, by giving simpler readings to kids who need them. But they should all be fairly simple. That way their brains might be able to focus on form and acquire some grammar in the process, and so they don’t have to look up many words. Talking results in serious problems for students. They use a dictionary IF they don’t know a word, not the teacher or fellow student. At least they’re getting input this way.

      John, hold the frame, you’re the expert on SLA, not the parents and not the admin. If they claim to be, let them demonstrate what they actually know about it, and your case may be buoyed by their inability to articulate it. Come with some strong statements from ACTFL. Oh wait, Is ACTLF still not including classical languages into the 90% TL usage statement? Well, you’ve got Bob Patrick’s track record and leadership to share!

  6. John, as I start writing I don’t really know what I’m going to say. I would say I’ve had a class or two like that, but your situation might be worse now than mine ever has been, and besides, from what I remember, finding other sufferers wasn’t much help in the moments of trial in the class itself.

    I know what it feels like to be attacked by the children in our classes. Remember, though, that there really isn’t combat going on. There is, but there isn’t. We need to fight the good fight, but we can’t really loose. We are adults. We have kids of our own and wives and lives that are far above the slime those bad classes try to put on us. What we lack in those difficult moments, perhaps, is perspective on just how small those little snots are. This can lead us to react with the best response of all: love.

    I don’t really know what to say as far as practical advice. If you want to fight the fight, do what Ben and everyone above is saying about jGR and calls home and laying the hammer down. But I am a new(er) teacher, too, who still remembers the class of seniors who were sophomores with me during my first year and who graduated two years ago. I will probably remember how terribly they made me feel for the rest of my life, like a totally inept fool. Or at least that was the goal of a few of them.

    It was like I had finished my business but had to wait three years to flush.

    Basically, I’m not sure that I can say that you are obligated to try with them. You have my number. Give me a call if you want. And I still owe you $25.

  7. Thanks everyone for the words of advice and support. I haven’t checked the PLC for about a week, and I am so heartened to see all of this discussion in relation to my difficulties (which in many ways are not so bad as what many of you face, but are real for me nevertheless). There’s some serious sub-text here, which is parental bullying of me through their high achieving kids. This has manifested in the form of emails to me expressing “concern” for the Latin program, that it is not as rigorous and consistent as under the previous regime, and that by catering to the “lowest common denominator” I risk losing the students and parents who would be my greatest allies, as they go to French or another language that is more challenging for them. I have a conference scheduled with a concerned parent this Thursday. I’ll report on that later.

    I had a victory with this class on Friday, because I finally decided to grow a backbone–to see if that alone would solve my problem, before changing the policies. In my desire to avoid the confrontation, and thinking it was an issue of keeping them busy with busywork, I just wasn’t putting the hammer down. My wife gave me a pep talk, and I came into class with a restatement of a few basic rules and their consequences (come into class quietly, blurting will cost you your passing period, and all phones in sight will be confiscated). This is the kind of class that immediately calms down when you consciously project authority and enforce the rules constantly. It’s exhausting to do, but so worth the effort.

    I love Louisa’s idea. But what’s crazy is that these kids, especially the high achievers, would prefer to chant and/or copy endings all day, and don’t think I am teaching them anything unless they are doing the grammar grind.

    This week I’ll go back in with my spine (and bully radar) on full alert. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks again, all, for the encouragement.

    1. John that suggestion by Judy to use Bob’s article is a good one. My own advise is more general – keep your mind clear about what is really happening here. I think you are doing that right now and I commend you and the balance you are bringing to this battle on a daily basis.

      It cannot be easy. You are being challenged by people who do not get what is happening in our field. They are not to be blamed, but they have absolutely no right to challenge you professionally. We all get challenged in this way and now it is your turn.

      Unfortunately they have power, but it is a power based in the past and so is termite infested. You have power that is based in the future, which is real power. Your power is based in the current unfolding of massive change in foreign language education that is not based in robotic instruction but in human instruction. It’s coming and those well-to-do Bay Area parents can’t stop it.

      Know that we will all go to the mat with you on this deal. I would even go so far as to suggest that when you think about the caliber of intellectual thought coming from this group, not to mention their practical experience in real classrooms with comprehensible input, we could mount an offensive with these parents that would shock them. Not that it would come to that, but I say that because I only want you to know that you have tremendous support here, that’s all. Bon courage!

    2. It’s heartening to know that John, who I now know is our veteran John Piazza, struggles with ugly classes at times. Or, rather, struggles with a class while at a new school. It is no easy thing starting a gig at a new school. It’s even harder for us who have to get admin and parents to buy-into our non-traditional practice.

      My wife worked at an affluent school, UC Lab Schools, for 6 years before quitting last year and taking up a SPED job at a school on the West Side — hugely different communities. She was sick and tired of the entitlement at UC Lab Schools (I’ll restrain myself from getting into the specifics). I imagine you’re facing such affluence and culture of entitlement, John.

      Stick to your guns. You’re ability to consistently describe and defend why you teach the way you teach will win them over.

      This is why we call ourselves warriors! (who the heck said that last week?)

  8. Dear John,

    I would go into the meeting with parents armed with a copy of the article about Bob Patrick that was recently posted. Explain that you are not teaching “the lowest common denominator” when you work for acquisition rather than memorization. Or better yet, send them the link to the article before the meeting so they can have the background needed to discuss your method.

  9. Why have I never used jGR until now!? I don’t need it really, in most of my classes. However, I have had an ugly class, but I have given them some leeway because it is a fourth period class of 34 first year students. Even the loud students are smart and learning a good bit, so I let things slide. Today I gave out a copy of the Interpersonal Skills Rubric to this class at the beginning of class and discussed what each level meant. I explained that I was sorry that I had allowed some students to think that their participation and actions in Spanish class did not affect their grades. I explained that they already had one jGR grade for this 9 weeks and this was where that grade comes from. I put a 5 day table on the paper and they rated themselves for the day. I also had a box for a teacher grade that I told them I would use if I didn’t agree with theirs. Almost all graded themselves honestly, except for the one who put 9.99. I will average these together for a major grade.And now I have something to show to parents! Thanks for this great tool!

  10. Excellent report on jGR Katie and thank you. It contains a key idea re: jGR/ICSR that rarely gets mentioned – if we don’t need it we don’t use it. We use it when we need it. I found myself using it in some classes to start the year, they would all fall into line quickly under the laser pointer to the Classroom Rules, and by September I graded only with quizzes because I didn’t need the jGR hammer. Then, if I needed it again in November, I did what you describe above. We use it when we need it.

  11. I was just thinking back to May of 2011, I think it was, when Robert and I started firing emails back and forth about the potential of connecting grading to the Three Modes of Communication. I remember the feel in those emails was that we were not sure that we could get away with it.

    Over some time many in this group, especially jen who launched the model, helped us separate the idea that is now jGR from the idea of a “participation grade”. By the fall of that year, we had a conviction that we were doing the right thing, for reasons outlined in many of the posts on jGR that year (https://benslavic.com/blog/category/jgr/).

    I just wanted to say here that we took a risk in doing that. We have tested it for three years now, and we can say that by trusting our gut and defining HOW a student takes our class as part of the process of succeeding in our classes because of the nature of how people learn languages, we did the right thing.

    We take risks a lot here. Some of us teach in a way that no one else in our building does. We challenge kids to show up as human beings in our classes. When they don’t dot that we contact their parents. We go out of our way in the little hallway interactions with our administrators and in formal meetings to make sure that they understand what we are doing and why and what the research behind our decision to teach in this way is.

    I think that is very cool.

    1. Ben, sometimes we get tired in our struggle to improve the school and educational experience for our students. So many times the glacial slowness of change in institutions* is simply wearing.

      However, look at what a change is taking place. Eric posts a series of questions on ACTFL’s boards, and the keepers of tradition respond defensively. Defensively. Not derisively or dismissively – defensively. It may simply be wishful thinking, but I can’t help but believe that many silent readers will observe that the only people with positive and useful responses were TCI people. There are, by the way, some items I still plan to respond to on the first thread (thematic units). It’s just a bit difficult to get to everything.

      *As I think about the history of methods in foreign language teaching in the US, I note that most of the time we do not see a lot of change in the classroom despite the touting of the latest wonderful new method. Why is that? Because the teachers in the classroom have not been convinced. It’s much like when we elect a new president. No matter which party he belongs to, the general public’s interface with the government won’t change much because the same civil servants will still be at the same desks doing the same job in the same way they have always done it. It takes concerted effort and time for the changes to take hold. As a new generation of teachers moves into the classroom we will see changes, but many students will not experience them because the individual teacher in their classroom will continue to do what she has always done, and we will have to wait until that teacher retires. Ben, you and I are anomalies because we embraced this new way of thinking and teaching after we were already established in the classroom, but look at where it has led.

      1. I know I’ve quoted it here before, but now I can’t remember who said it (VanPatten?), nor can I find the quote. To paraphrase: when teachers are presented a new method, they don’t abandon what they were doing, rather they integrate it with what they are already doing.

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