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It’s Time To Slow Down

Hello!! It’s good to have the “real” blog up and running again back here at www.heartsforteaching.com .

My kids and are will be starting our third full week on Tuesday (wow! so quickly?) and if you have been reading many of the posts on various Facebook pages (IFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching, CI Liftoff etc.), you’ll notice a common theme: It’s time to slow down.


We finally have a stable schedule, so students are not moving from class to class or teacher to teacher. I have had time to establish my expectations for behavior, model how I deal with “issues”, and begin to create relationships with, and among, students.

I’m crazy to do more with the language!! But…I also just gave a quiz and got feedback from parents at Back To School Night…so I know that this is the perfect time to slow down, no matter how counterintuitive it might be.

I’m going to reference a post from earlier this year: When Students Are “Lost”

Luckily, my students are “lost” yet! But, I know, if I don’t slow down now they will be soon. I just don’t want that to happen! Especially this early in the year! So I’m going back to this post, and these ideas this week to be proactive for my students.

When I was teaching in NY, I used this scale with my students to describe what is going on in their brains during class:

Stage 1 : Attention
(student is looking at/listening to w/intent to understand)

Stage 2: Identification
(student can locate sounds/text that are recognizable)

Stage 3: Comprehension
(student can visualize/dramatize meaning of the pieces they understand)

Stage 4: Clarification
(student will seek information needed to comprehend any missing pieces)

Stage 5: Interaction
(student will respond to aural input/text to the best of ability)

I want to share this with my students now, so they can begin to appreciate not only how much work the brain is actually doing during class (hmmmm can you say “RIGOR”?), but also to remind them that this is a process, a journey, and they are farther along than they may realize.

We will work from a poster than words it this way:

Stage 1: I heard/see it but I don’t recognize it/can’t identify it.

Stage 2: I can identify/recognize it but I don’t know what it means.

Stage 3: I heard/saw it AND I recognize it AND I’m pretty sure I know what it means.

Stage 4: I checked what I think it means with the context to see if I’m right.

Stage 5: I totally get it and can respond verbally/physically to it.

and I may create a smaller version for them each to tuck in their folders. It will definitely be part of parent communication. I REALLY wish I had thought to prepare it for Back To School Night…..

Then it can begin to be part of our interactions in class; with each other and with the language.

Now the REAL benefit to this is that this poster is a HUGE visual reminder for me to slow down. Why? So that their brains have time to deal with all of the stages! It really is a lot of work! In time it will take microseconds, but right now….they need time. Thinking time. Confidence time. All of which leads to individual and community success. Which we always need!!

with love,
PS if you haven’t read the post where I originally shared this, go for it! When Students Are “Lost.”

Incredibly, Uniquely Beautiful

Midterms are over. But I worry that the mindset isn’t.

Even those of us who don’t enjoy assessment, tracking data and recording grades can get caught up in the tidal pull of measurement and the undertow of evaluation.

Well….that might be a little too metaphoric, but we ARE teachers. Since the age of 5 we’ve been playing with tests and trying to win. That is hard to let go of. Many of us were test champions and grade royalty.

(The following is my own opinion and might be considered heretic in this day and age)

I realize that we must assign grades and that students require passing grades in order to move to the next level. We have all worked hard to create systems that allow the progress our students make to be accurately reflected in the grades. Our jobs depend on it. But…in the great scope of life…

THE GRADES DO NOT MATTER. They are artificially “scores” that someone/something determined would measure value in schools. They are part of the system, BUT THEY DO NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT ANYTHING.

They certainly do not reflect value. No human being can be given a numerical value. It’s ridiculous to even think of it (although sadly, it is commonly done throughout American culture, not just in schools.)

Every moment that we see our students in terms of a number, we have lost an opportunity to see them as people.

The system, and most of the people in it, will try to change your mind about that. They will also try to convince you that YOUR value will also be determined by numbers: your students’ numbers. They will tell you that not only are students are numbers, but that we should compare students using these values. Actually, they would like us to line them up according to these numbers. They want us to believe that the students should all on the same place on a line of measurement at the same time. Finally, they tell us that the students should be moving along that measuring line at the same pace. On a day to day basis.

They are also trying to convince us that it is our job to make that happen. If we don’t, we are failures. (Yes, they use THAT word….a word we have secretly been afraid of since we entered a school at age 5)

My dear friends, that is a crock of horsepucky. All of it. Including the idea that we are special because we “earned” good grades when we were students. Grades do not make anyone special.


Its really difficult to see that. Our job doesn’t always let us remember that, even though that is an elemental part of our profession.

Please remember it.

Everyone is special and everyone is unique.

Our students are not supposed to be alike. They all enter our classes at different ages. They enter with different backgrounds and experiences. They did not learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to read their first language, learn to ride a bike, learn anything at the same rate. Why? Because while we may all be wired in the same way, we are all unique and incredibly miraculous human beings.

Have you ever seen a group of one year olds together? They are all at very different places in height, weight, ability to walk/talk etc. If they are paying attention, if they are in the classroom approximately the same number of days, they are all getting the same amount and quality of input. AND THEY WILL STILL NOT BE IN THE SAME PLACE.

Some students show growth in slow, steady increments. Others will grow in “hops”, showing improvement every two to three months….but very little in between. Others are icebergs. Everything grows beneath the surface and we see nothing…then all of a sudden BOOM! After six to eight months (or more) of nothing….amazing things are happening.

No one is really “ahead” or “behind”, despite what society might want us to believe. If the student is there, and involved, if we are providing a rich environment and comprehensible instruction, then the student is where the student is supposed to be. Period. They will move when they are ready, at the pace that is best for them. We can pay attention, and we can respond, but there is truly little we can do to change that.

And it is no reflection on us.

Hard as that is to remember.

We need to enjoy each student where he or she is….or we will lose sight of the beauty of the human brain, the human mind and the human spirit. How each and every human is unique and heart-stoppingly beautiful.

Nothing else really matters.

with love,

R and E: Transitions and Signals 3.19.12

(Originally posted 3/19/12)

Smooth transitions are a key piece to successful classroom management. But getting a class to make smooth transitions is a bit like grocery shopping with a hungry toddler!

Most of us do not start out using TPRS in the classroom for an entire class period. Even when we get to that point on some days, we rarely do just one CI-based activity (ie PQA or storyasking) for an entire class period..especially if our students are young, novices or we teach on the block!!!!!

We can make our world, and our students, much happier if we delineate when an activity, and the expected behaviors that go with it, start and end.

To do that, we first need a clearly taught, practiced and incorporated way to get out students’ attention. The truth is…we all have one. Maybe we didn’t mean to teach it or are even aware that we did, but our behavior did.

Kids do have instincts..very good ones. If we haven’t taught them a specific signal and response to get attention, then they will just do what they want to until they sense that we are on the edge of ____(insert yelling, screaming, throwing something, using the evil eye etc. here) and then they will listen up. If we never get to that point and just teach on whether or not they are listening, then we have taught them that what we want and what we say shouldn’t matter to them. The question is…

Question #3: What is an EFFECTIVE way to get the attention of an entire group?

Choose/create a signal and response. Teach it, practice it, use it. Repeat.

Many of you know that I am a huge proponent of the signal. Just as Blaine utilized Págames, I could not teach without a signal. If you don’t know what I mean then here is an explanation.

The only way that you can truly run a classroom is to have a way to get students to be silent, stop all activities and listen to what you have to say.

You don’t have to use my idea of a signal. But you need something and you need to teach it, practice it, use it and never let your students forget how important it is. Not only for a lesson, but for safety, security and sanity.

Anything can happen in a classroom.

On any given day with a class of freshmen I can use a signal as many as 15 times in 40 minute period. Sometimes it is to refocus/make a transition. Sometimes it is to add humor. Sometimes it is just a brain break. Sometimes it is to restore order. The more mature/experience the students, the less often I need a signal…but I always need one.

The most powerful thing about teaching, practicing and utilizing a signal is that it is the CLEAREST example we can give of what INTERACTION should look like…..and our entire teaching method/approach/whatever is based on interaction. Teach/practice/use an attention signal and you have the basis of the classroom that you want.

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Day 5 and Where Are We? Archived Post 9.15.10

(Originally posted 9/15/10)

So it’s Day 5 in my room. This year I am teaching Levels 2,3 and 4. (The nomenclature is a bit deceiving; Level 2 students are in HS Level 2, which is actually their 3rd full year of study) My student teacher and I feel like we should be “going somewhere.” You see, we had a weekly plan.

Then that weekly plan was broken down into daily plans.

Every single day we have had to move things (that didn’t get done) to another day. The “things we haven’t gotten to yet” list seems to be getting longer …and longer…and longer…. So I really had to sit down this afternoon to see where we are…and where we ARE going. Normally this doesn’t bother me much. But this is a new curriculum for me (Levels 2/3) so I don’t have my bearings yet.

Besides, my student teacher has a supervisor to report to who does not have a lot of experience with CI-based classes…so I want to be able to “translate” our curriculum to him.

It’s a bit ironic…only 5 days in and it feels like we should have gone farther. :o) At best we’ve only had 3 1⁄2 hours of contact time. From that we can deduct time for attendance, transitions, setting up the seating chart, discussion the course expectations, a fire drill, phone calls from the office, morning announcements etc. etc. etc. An optimistic estimate would be that we’ve had 2 1⁄2 hours of instructional time. From that we can deduct time to give directions, pass out and return papers, give a short “quiz”, clarify answers, check for materials, etc. etc. etc. Now we are down to about 2 hours of interaction in the TL. Total.

When I went back over our weekly plan, I looked carefully at what we have been doing. In that time we have discussed the situation of the miners in Chile, explored what students did over the weekend, read an “email’ from a “former student” who went to the VMAs in LA, sang a goofy song with IR in the past tense, started to dig deeply into the song Aqui Estoy Yo (Luis Fonsi, David Bisbal, Neil Sedaris and Alex Syntek), revisited a few of our favorites from Sr. Wooly, and spent some time getting to know each other via introduction letters and conversation.


Why on earth then does it feel like we haven’t “gone” anywhere!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think, and I could be wrong, so I’ll be paying attention to this as the year goes on……that it doesn’t “feel” like a lot because we have worked hard to connect all of the activities. The structures used to discuss the weekend were the same ones that we used to understand and talk about the Video Music Awards. Several of them came from the song, and we used other phrases from the song to take attendance (Aqui estoy yo..es obvio!) Structures connect activities to each other and allow students to connect their thoughts and emotions to the activities themselves. When the students connect with the activities, they begin to connect with each other. Time flies. It “feels” like we haven’t “done” anything.

We have physical evidence that a lot has been done: papers, powerpoints, stories, letters, even a couple of grades in the gradebook. Yet, apparently, none of it felt like “work.” If it did, we’d feel more productive. I’m glad I sat down to take a look at it. I feel much better now.

with love,

All content of this website ©Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Looking Back Archived Post 9.6.10

(Originally posted 9/6/10)

Last fall I made a commitment to myself, and to my students, to honor Time. I’ve tried to look back and see if I really did that…and if I did….how did that affect my classroom.

It’s difficult to do, because Time truly flew last year. It was my oldest son’s first year at a community college and my youngest son’s senior year in high school. We sold our house and moved. Both sons searched for, applied to, were accepted by, and made plans to go out of state for college this fall. My “adopted” daughter graduated from college. And that was my world outside of school. :o)

It was a year full of exciting events, memorable moments and stressful situations. I hope that, looking back, my recollections of the classroom are accurate.

The clearest thing to me, about last year, was the much more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

Not relaxed in a “we are not doing anything today” way, but rather, relaxed in a “there isn’t going to be any pain in this classroom today” sort of way. Students who routinely “blew up” in other classrooms actually were relieved to come in and to calm down. I did not “gear up’ emotionally to face any of my classes…I didn’t need to.

Going slowly worked. This was a group that wasn’t going to get it if I went quickly…that much I knew. But the only way I could know if going slowly would work, was to try it. So I did.

Now, I do have an advantage….we are a small district and I knew that I would be the teacher that would get these kids in Level 2. So I used that advantage and took the opportunity to do what I believed what was best for this group.

What do I mean by going slowly?

I let go of the “schedule.” I went through our curriculum as the students were ready….not when the schedule said to. When students needed to, or wanted to, linger on a topic, we did. When the earthquake in Chile occurred, we let go of the scripted curriculum and followed the story. When students found a song that was classroom-appropriate, we spent time with it. When I got a new idea for a new activity, we went with it. When I discovered the movie Real, we added it. When students needed three days to read a chapter in Casi Se Muere instead of one…we took three days.

Where did we end up? Right where we should have. We may not have addressed reflexive verbs the way I have before. We may not have had as many quizzes as we have had other years. We may not have written as many original pieces as other classes have. I’m pretty sure that we didn’t get as detailed with vocabulary as I might have a few years ago.

But they were all with me. It may not have been their favorite subject nor their favorite class….but they were with me. And this was a group with a number of kids that, in other years, I would have lost. Not numerically…they would have slid by with a 66 or a 67…but they would have played the game to get through…not really acquiring language. Yet, by going slowly, I was able to see them continue to grow and acquire through the very last week of school.They were interested.

They were willing to show concern about victims in Chile.

They were willing to listen to nearly any song that was presented to them and frequently came to me with songs that they had scouted out on Youtube or Itunes.

They came in with questions….things that they had seen, or heard, or thought about overnight or over the weekend and wanted to know more about…or wanted to understand.

They encouraged each other. They really developed, and utilized, a sense of humor using the language. And the students who, if I had gone more quickly, would have kept up with me?

They still rocked the house with their insights, their skills, their applications and their level of acquisition.

Going slowly allowed me the time and the freedom to do more differentiation than ever before. By letting go of the idea of getting more done, I was able to do better. What is differentiation if not a form of academic personalization?

I hope that I make the time this year to not only honor Time…but to record in more detail what I was doing and how so that I can continue this…and to share it with you all in more detail.

With love,

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Output Myths #2 and #3 Post 5.6.10

(originally posted 5/6/10)

Output Myth #3:

The rate at which students begin to comprehend and produce a second language is totally dependent on teacher-controlled issues save three: student motivation, student work, student “ability”-level.    


If all of the students in the class are equally motivated,

(and teachers assume that they should be)

If all of the students in the class complete the same work,

(and teachers assume that they should have)


If all of the students in the class are perceived to have the same academic skill level,

(and teachers assume that students are either “teachable” or “not teachable”.)

then they will all accomplish/learn the same material at the same rate.


those who do as requested/planned will earn A’s and those who do not will earn F’s.


those who do as requested/planned and do NOT earn A’s are less intelligent than those who receive A’s,


students who have earned A’s will know more and be able to produce better language than students who have earned F’s.

Although I thought so for many years………………none of the above is true.

Myth #3:

Saying a word or phrase over and over and over again is the surest way to learn it.

I’d like to share a story from 2000 ( I think….) when I attended my first workshop with Susie Gross.  It was the end of day two and we had been working with a select group of words for about 16 hours.   For whatever reason, the group could NOT produce the phrase le vert d’eau (the glass of water …please excuse any sp/agreement errors…I haven’t used the phrase since…).

How hard could it be???????!!!!!!!!!!!  We were ALL experienced language teachers.  We had heard Susie use it over and over and over and over again.  Someone suggested that we had not “acquired” the word because we really hadn’t had to use it.  We needed to say it. Over and over and over and over.

Susie said, “NO.”   The room got very quiet.  “I don’t believe in that any longer.   I haven’t used it often enough, comprehensibly enough for you all.  That’s all.”   I didn’t believe her.  I don’t know if anyone in the room believed her.

And she began another story…which I don’t remember at all…except that I do remember her somehow inserting “le vert d’eau” in there a bazillion times.    Finally…….it clicked.   And le vert d’eau was in our lexicon.  Just like that.  And it was still there the next morning.  And it’s still there a decade later.  And I definitely don’t go around saying it out loud.  At all.

Then there is the word “escaparate”  (shop window).   I learned it in grade 9.   I never said it out loud once in high school (although I really wanted to tee hee it’s a fun word…escaparate!  like pamplemousse!!  ).   I never used it in college.  Then, when I was in Spain for a semester….there it was..in my brain…totally ready to use!!!  Too bad I couldn’t remember a single one of the question words…..which I KNOW I had to use over and over again in high school and college.  In context.   Still couldn’t remember them….

Still….I spent many years creating activities which gave students plenty of opportunities to say things in Spanish.   Games and role-plays and projects and skits and all kinds of well-conceived, well-written, well-rubricked, totally ineffective activities…..that did not help students to acquire any kind of language for the long run.with love,

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Output Myth #1 Archived Post 5.5.10

(originally posted 5/5/10)

I normally do not “attack” any kind of language program.  It’s not something I am usually comfortable with.  However….one of the enormous frustrations of teachers is their students’ inability to speak and / or write with confidence and fluency.    I do believe that traditional second-language instruction attitudes are to blame.   This conversation  on Ben’s blog got me thinking again…..I wrote a fairly long response there, but would like to rewrite and break it down here…I started with the first myth I think exist and I broke it down.  In italics are the teacher’s words/thoughts/etc. when the myth starts to disintegrate into reality….

The Output Myths  (and their implications) of a non-Comprehesion-based Program

  1.    A student learns to comprehend and to produce language at the same rate.
  • Students are given a list of targeted vocabulary and grammatical structures for each unit.  The end-of-unit-evaluations will require students to comprehend written and spoken material using this vocabulary.

They’ve had this material for almost a month now!   They knew that this would be on the test.  They obviously didn’t study.

  • Students will also be expected to produce, with few to no errors, in speech and in writing, in contextually-appropriate, but contrived, situations.

Why do they have to stop and think about what to say?  We wrote these in dialogues and practiced them in skits.  Why can’t they just spit it out?They’ve had this material for almost a month now!   They knew that this would be on the test.  They obviously didn’t study.

  • Teachers know exactly how long it should take for students to master these items.

I have 9 units to complete in 10 months.   If I subtract time for review, testing and vacations that comes down to three weeks per unit.  They’ll have to study.

  • Teachers will plan instruction, practice and evaluation according to this knowledge.

If we can’t get to everything in class, then I’ll just have to assign it for homework.  They’d better put in the time and study.

  • Students who do not succeed in mastering these items, in the alloted time frame,  are considered responsible for their failure to do so.

They’ve had this material for almost a month now!   They knew that this would be on the test.  They obviously didn’t study.

  • Students will be expected to be able to recognize and to produce this list of items at all times once the unit is completed (even those who were unsuccessful during the unit.)

We studied this material for almost a month in ninth grade!   They should know it by now!!

Sound familiar???????????  These italicized thoughts/comments are so much a part of the “My Kids Won’t Do Work” litany that they seem NORMAL for people to say!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  That’s just not right.

For those of you who are wondering……that is why I am so drawn to CI programs.    There is no place for these complaints because the system is simply different.   And it works.

with love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Pumping It Up! … 3.23.10

(originally posted 3/23/10)

Now….what about going deeper into the language?

The first and most obvious approach is to play with past, present and future tense.  When you start to do this will depend on your district, your students, and your own mindset.

The truth is that any student, at any time, can learn to speak about the past, the present and the future.  What matters here is the pacing.   When our students hear the present tense, they process at one speed.  Events happen sequentially.

When we refer to the past tense, or the future tense, or a natural combination of the three, WE MUST SLOW DOWN!!   The students’ minds must travel dimensionally to “picture” what is happening.  They need us to speak slowly at first, to pause to allow them to picture, to connect what they just heard with the picture in their minds and to anticipate what may be happening next.     Once they get accustomed to all of this cognitive activity we can move closer to a more natural rate of speed ….as long as we constantly check for comprehension.     The investment of time early on is very worthwhile.     Try not to worry.  Try not to be impatient.  With yourself or with them!!

With love,

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

What Happens in the Brain Archived Post 1.1.10

(This post originally appeared first on 1/1/10)

When I tell my students about language, I point out to them that much of what happens in our brains is “automatic”, that we are not conscious of what actually happens in L1 and so it feels strange or difficult in L2.

I point out that there are the following steps:

1:  Hear/See the language element (sound/word/phrase/sentence).

2:  Recognize the language element.

3:  Comprehend the language element.

That is why on listening quizzes, with fairly “new” language elements, I give them 2/3 credit if they hear “La casa” or “Quisiera comprarlo’ and can write or say it back to me.  The remaining 1/3 credit is the meaning.  This is often confusing to them because they think that the meaning carries the most importance.  I try to remind them that unless they can hear/see and recognize it, they will never get to the meaning portion!!!


It is also practical.  Being able to hear/see an element and write/pronounce it allows them to then ask someone…what does “X” mean.   Very useful.  

Step #3 can be fairly complex for the brain.  The brain may run through several process, simultaneously, to arrive at meaning and I am sure that some of you out there can offer research to back me up on this.  From a layman’s perspective, at the very least, the students’ brains may use context clues, in comparison to L1 (which relies heavily on the level of development in that language!!!),  and/or reach into stored memory for the meaning.    

All of this takes time.   The input speed, IF I AM TEACHING FOR ACQUISITION, can make or break the students’ ability to attach meaning.  When teaching for acquisition…I already knew…and try to remember to frequently point out to my students (colleagues, parents, administrators as necessary) that slower is better.


Step 4:  “Picture” the meaning.    Holding on to the meaning of an element (again, sound, word, phrase, sentence) means being able to “picture” , “imagine”, or “feel” the  meaning.    Step 4 is CRUCIAL.  Without it, there is no acquisition, no long-term memory.   That is why nouns and actions are so much ‘easier” for the brain to hang on to.  It is why the “little’ words are the hardest, and take the most time to get.   The meaning of the word “while” cannot be pictured, nor even easily described.  It has little “weight”, it is more of a feeling or situation where meaning is concerned and is frequently harder to remember.   It takes longer for the brain to assign, hang on to, dig up the meaning of the word.  

Step 5:  Connecting the meaning to the “story in the brain.”  A random set of words that creates no pattern or picture is very hard to remember.  Memory and comprehension occur when meaning is connected to a pattern.  

Memory and comprehension occur when meaning is connected to a pattern.    

On a very simple level, when we do TPR with students and ask them to “Jump three times” their minds must connect the meaning of all three elements in order to  know what is required of them and THEN they need time to make their bodies move.  Just knowing the meaning of all three elements is not enough.  The mind must connect the meanings to comprehend the phrase.  Their brains and bodies need TIME to do that.

In conversation or in a story, every meaning-carrying utterance is added to the ones before it in the students’ minds in order to add to the conversation or story.  That is how comprehension is built.  That is why humor works.  

When our students laugh at the idea of our principal feeding doughnuts to a Chihuahua he has hidden under his desk, it is because they got to Step 4: visualizing the situation….and to Step 5:  comparing that image to the image of what is expected of a principal and finding humor in the absurdity of it.  

IF WE ARE TEACHING FOR ACQUISITION, then we must slow down to allow their minds to go there.

Therefore….following the sage advice of my 9th grade Geometry teacher….I reversed that and was stunned and humbled by the (now obvious, at least to me) truth:

IF WE SLOW DOWN AND LET THEIR MINDS GO THERE, then, and only then, are we teaching for acquisition.

with love,


All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.