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What You See Part 1 Archived Post…4.26.10

(originally posted 4/26/10)

(Please remember that I am working out my thoughts as I write…not necessarily preaching a sermon!!!)

A number of years ago I wrote a piece for the moretprs list about kids with “attitude.”   Lots of things have changed in a decade, but the fact that adolescents often have “attitude” has not.  This piece talks about what you see….so I will start with it:

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UNDERSTANDING STUDENTS WITH “ATTITUDE”

Okay ladies and gentlemen…here it is..

We are a threat to hair flippers.

It is a well-developed protection mechanism designed to preserve a lifestyle which focuses on these young ladies’ social strengths…beauty and social position.  Hair flipping is an art and a well-practiced communication device.  It says:

DON’T THREATEN MY WORLD.

Other students have this protection mechanism as well.  Each group has its own:  The Swagger and Swearers, The Smell like Smoke Shufflers, The Eyebrow Raisers,  The Can’t Stop Gigglingers, The Smart Remarkers,The Grunters, The I Still Love Last Year’s Teacherers,  The Eye Rollers, The Incessant Whisperers, and among others..another one of our favorites…The Great Sarcastic Remarkers.

These devices are automatic…particularly at the beginning of the school year when you don’t know them, they don’t know you , and the class doesn’t know each other.  The mechanism says clearly:

THIS IS WHAT I AM COMFORTABLE DOING AND BEING IN FRONT OF OTHERS.  READ MY MECHANISM!!

In our position as language teachers we ask them almost immediately to do things WAY outside of their comfort zone.  It is very very threatening..  It is threatening because:

THEY ARE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES. (to them a mistake is NOT always doing something wrong..sometimes it is doing the wrong thing)

THEY DON’T KNOW THEY CAN TRUST US.

THEY WANT TO CONTROL WHAT OTHERS THINK OF THEM.

Deactivating these mechanisms takes love and time.  Be yourself.  Love them. Push gently.  Be patient.  Show them that you are proud of your weird and wonderful and individual self.   They will see you as a role  model…even if they have to be out of their teens before they begin to emulate you.

LOVE AND TIME.

Stuff we all need.

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I wrote this just as I was beginning my TPRS journey and it resonates even more with me today.  Personalization is so central to TPRS…yet our students often work very hard to cover and protect what is really important to them.  How do we combat that?

First, we accept that they have reasons for their cover.  It really doesn’t matter if we like those reasons or not…what matters is that we acknowledge who/what walks in our door.  How? By treating them as real, regular people…regardless of their hair color, hair cut, number (or location) of piercings, choice of music, addiction to video games etc.

(now…that doesn’t mean that I am advocating the acceptance of foul language, degrading t shirts, pants on the ground et.al)

One of the requirements in my room is that we treat others AS IF they are intelligent, interesting, capable and important.  It is as hard for me, some days, to remember that as it is for my students.  Frankly, they don’t always act intelligent, interesting, capable and important.  I have some students who make an extreme effort NOT to appear to be any of those things….

However, treating them AS IF they are really does work.  In time, using patience, and understanding that they may ultimately work hardest to keep their “cover” in place…but it does work.

It has been much easier to do since I took Susie Gross’ advice to “teach to the eyes” to heart.  It takes them a while to get used to being taught to that way…because it is harder to maintain a cover that way.   But it works….and the cover starts to melt…or at the very least to transform so that it more closely resembles the heart of the adolescent within…and less like the suit of armor that protects it.

I’ve also learned to open my eyes outside of the classroom.  It is amazing how different some students can be outside of my four walls.  I’ve seen spiky-haired, black-rimmed-eyed giants play piggy-back with their younger siblings.  I might see an exquisite water-color displayed that was created by a lineman.  I have had extremely well-coiffed young ladies who can dismantle a four-wheeler…and reassemble it.  I have seen tiny fairy-like creatures kick and run like wildfire on the playing field.  I am constantly surprised by the many facets of students’ interests, abilities and personalities.

I never really know what will be the key that opens a student up.  Sometimes it is something that we do in class: a story, a poem, a movie, a song, a current event.  Other times it is casual observance of a tshirt design, a new pair of shoes, a sketch on the front of a book cover.   Occasionally it is an item in my classroom…this year the fans that I brought back from Spain have opened up many doors of conversation.  Rarely, if ever, am I the one that opens the door.  It is almost always the student who shows me, if only for a tiny instant, a glimpse beyond the armor.

It is my job to be open, ready and PAYING ATTENTION…so that I do not miss it.

with love,
Laurie

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Love The Ones You’re With Archived Post …4.24.10

(originally posted 4/24/10)

There is a difference between going in to school every day to teach students who should appreciate us and don’t and going in each day to teach students who don’t appreciate education but have the potential to.

The difference is in the emotional weight of the perspective.   The difference is in the expectations.

When we perceive ourselves as going in every day to teach students who SHOULD appreciate an education, SHOULD  understand the power inherent in knowledge, SHOULD see the value of the work that develops skills, SHOULD thank us for choosing this career and working hard at it, we are placing OUR values and expectations on our students.     When, invariably, our low-achieving students fail to live up to those expectations there is a great deal of hurt, disappointment and anger.

So why do they fail?   Because we are teaching the students we think that we SHOULD have….rather than teaching the students we DO have.

Frankly, the students we think that we SHOULD have do not exist.  I don’t care if you teach in an urban, rural or suburban setting.  It doesn’t matter if you teach 40 kids in a class or 14.  If we don’t get to know these students that we have right now, we do not know whom we are teaching.

What I often hear sounds something like this….

These kids don’t know the meaning of work.

These kids don’t do homework.

And so on.

What those folks (and I myself have been one) are REALLY saying is this….

These kids don’t know the meaning of work….AND THEY SHOULD…(like the kids I used to have, like last year’s group, like when I first started teaching, like I did, like my own children would etc. etc.)

These kids don’t do homework…AND THEY SHOULD…(like they would if they were smarter, like they would if their parents gave a damn, like they would if they had had me for a teacher last year etc.)

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to teach the students we have…not the ones we wish we had.

But unless we stop comparing our students to who we think that they should be, we cannot truly get to know, love and teach the students that we have.

I know that you may not agree with me….but think back to my original post

This is an idea I think it is worthwhile to consider.   Who knows how powerful it could be?   Sometimes it takes just a little tiny turn of the handle to open the door…….

With love,
Laurie

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.

Cleaning House Can Get Ugly Archived Post …4.23.10

(originally posted 4/23/10)

This week I have been cleaning, really really cleaning, out my house in preparation for a move.   It’s not the kind of change we often volunteer for because we know how much needs to be done.   Change is not for the faint of heart.  j

In order to get to a new place, I have had to empty out the old one…or at least get it ready to empty out.   I had to dig deep into the deep dark places that I have resisted looking at and have become good at avoiding.

I had hoped to move earlier, but this delay has had it’s benefits.  I’ve been able to sort through some things, many things actually, and determine their value to me.   (Is this really important enough to take up space in a new place?)

It has become a question that I am asking myself about my teaching as well.   Change is a process and the fact that I started a CI journey ten years ago does not mean that I have arrived at the end of it.    So I have looked at a few things to get rid of….and as usual….a few new ideas have crept in to take their place.

Ideas to Let Go Of….

  • Language must be learned academically.
  • Memorizing the rules and the exceptions to the rules is the PRIMARY prerequisite for success. (i.e. Only “bright” students can learn a language because memorizing rules and vocabulary is required.)
  • The amount of homework assigned and completed has a direct correlation to the ability of the student to be successful.
  • The older students are, the less desire and ability they have to be independent learners.
  • Students and parents do not see an immediate benefit to studying languages and cultures because they are uneducated or inexperienced.
  • Students have been taught by parents and by society to understand that education is a vital and important investment in themselves and their futures.
  • Students who do not invest themselves in school work are making an irrevocably bad decision and should be blamed for their own failures.
  • Students should be expected to rise above a negative situation outside of the classroom. Those who do not have their priorities “messed up.”

Ideas to Try Out…

  • Language is acquired through an intellectual, social and/or emotional interaction via Comprehensible Input.
  • Rules can be identified and utilized when students have a) enough language or b) a natural interest.
  • ANY student can acquire a language.
  • The main reason to memorize rules/exceptions is to perform well on tests required by an external system.
  • Many students who are high school age or younger do not achieve large gains in language acquisition by completing regularly scheduled homework activities.
  • All human beings are naturally independent learners.  Our students teach themselves all the time.    Students who are interested and motivated will continue acquiring language outside of the classroom experience.
  • Students and parents who experience success will be motivated to continue with language study.
  • Students who compare and contrast their personal experiences with the cultural and personal experiences of others are very interested in these topics.
  • MANY children are not raised to see any value in an education.    Some have received no instruction about schooling, others are influenced by their caregivers’ negative experiences and still others are directly instructed that education, particularly past the secondary level has little to no value.     They have also been raised to believe that teachers value education because they want to keep their jobs.  Their suspicion of schools, and of us, is understandable given these circumstances.
  • Students often lack the maturity to prioritize more than two items at any given time.   The item with the most immediate value often is perceived as the item having the most value.

with love,
Laurie

P.S.  Look for more thoughts later on this week…these need to be taken apart….
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.

A Chrysalis…Archived Post 3.17.10

(Originally posted 3./17/10)

Ok…Let’s face it.  Some folks don’t like caterpillars very much.   They are very wormy-looking.  They might look a little slimy or hairy.  But for the most part, lots of people think that they are cute little critters.  They appear to be curious, lifting up their little antennae-decked heads to sniff around.   Their colors are often beautiful.  And as we all know…they are hungry.  :o)

Children have been compared to caterpillars before.    Yes, I know…they often run around in a way caterpillars never do.  But……when it’s time to get ready to go to school?  Put on their pajamas?  Yup.  Caterpillars.

They are curious.  They can be fuzzy.  They can be adorable.  They can also be hairy, slimy and wormy.  And boy oh boy can they eat!!

If children are caterpillars, then adolescents must living in a chrysalis.  How perfect is that? They create a tough, ugly, protective coat of armor.  Underneath it they look as if they are sleeping…if you can see them at all.  There is little visible movement, although, over time, a great deal of change.     The shell keeps the world at bay until those changes take place.

Now caterpillars are a little luckier.  They can plant themselves on a tree branch and hang out.   No one is making them get up, get dressed, get to class, get a job and get moving while they get their act together.  Teens are not as lucky.  It’s no wonder then that they look for ways to pull the armor (hoodie, hair, shades) over their eyes and withdraw.  They need that withdrawal in order to work on their metamorphosis.

In our society, we have pushed adolescents to come so far out of their shells that it is inevitable that they find ways to crawl back in.   Society says “Get good grades, take as many classes as you can, get a part-time job, play a sport, play an instrument, go to church, have friends, have a boy/girlfriend, help around the house, volunteer, demonstrate leadership….. or you will not be successful.”

Is it any wonder that our students end up using chemicals, over-involved in sex or participating in self-injury?    That shell is there for a reason.  The evolving creature is very very vulnerable.  Yet, this is the time that we push the hardest for young people to get out and expose themselves to the world.

I’m not advocating that we lock our teens up in a protective fortress.  They are, after all, NOT caterpillars.   However, I do think that we occasionally owe them time, space, activities, and permission to withdraw…just a bit….from the childhood and adult activities going on all around them…in order to find a little peace.  They have enough going on inside to keep them busy.   Maybe if we did that, we wouldn’t find them going so far off of the deep end to do it for themselves.

with love,
Laurie

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.

They Really Need Us…Archived Post 3.13.10

(Originally posted 3/13/10)

Warning:  My personal opinion only.  I know that some people will see this differently.   That’s ok with me.  :o)  (I sent a version of this to the moretprs listserv in addition to posting it here.)

This is the time of year when some kids just push us over the edge.  Maybe they are mouthy.   Maybe they are combative.  Maybe they are passive-aggressive.  Maybe they try to be solid lumps of stone covered by a hoodie.    On the listserv, in emails, on Facebook, in the faculty room….teachers are letting out their frustrations.  I know that sometimes these kids seem incomprehensible….especially since many of us really enjoyed classes in high school. There may be a lot of reasons why they are in our classrooms and why it appears that they have no good reason to be there. Here are some possibilities…(warning…maybe too many of them!!):

* They did not choose their schedules. A parent, counselor, former teacher, administrator thought they should be in there…or even more likely has no idea that they are, much less whether or not they should be.

* Students often “get” that they have to “take” a class. They don’t always “get” that that means participating in and passing a class. Oh yes, I”m serious. What they are told is: You have to take such and such. Imagine that you have a very literal mind. What would that mean to you?

* Many of them have experienced classes where they COULD sit, not participate, and pass. Who knows how or why…but I’ve seen it happen. If they got through one, they may be fairly certain that they cdan do it in your room.

* Many of them are very very bright. They are used to absorbing enough material to get by without doing much else.

* They really don’t care if they get anything out of it. School is a place to escape home. That’s all that matters.

* They are suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Just being there takes all the effort they have. Participating is, truly, too much to expect.

* They are hurting. Bruised inside by someone’s abuse or a situation beyond their control. Their coping mechanism is an ugly whiplash response to anyone and anything.

* They feel inadequate. (even, well…especially…if they are very smart) This is a new venue, or one in which they feel smart enough in. They feel lost and respond by striking out or hiding.

* They are very intuitive. They recognize when we need to be liked and find it distasteful. (perhaps because that need is so great within themselves) So they throw it back in our faces by rejecting us and our class.

* They are over-exercising their newly-developed skills of analysis don’t know it. They have analyzed us and found us lacking. it’s a natural part of growing up and yes…it can be annoying and irritating and frankly, rude.

* They don’t know how to deal with us. We may be too loud or too silly or too whatever for their taste and comfort level. Language teachers are NOT like other teachers and while they have had many math and English teachers over the years, they haven’t had many of us to deal with….and especially not CI based language folks. We don’t stand up in the front and speak at them while they sit there and absorb it. Remember, kids are HIGHLY REWARDED for being silent in other classes.

* We are women. Sorry to say it, but it is true of many teachers in the profession. Many teens are reworking their relationships with the opposite sex. Or the same sex. Or someone who is parent-like.

* They trust us enough to not behave well. They know that we are not going to swear at them, write them up every day, call  their parents and rant, be sarcastic in front of the entire class.

* They have an undiagnosed, or unaddressed learning issue. Many times they have learned how to fade into the background in other subjects. They haven’t figured out how to do it in a language. Every year we seem to uncover students with unrecognized issues.

It is probably very complicated. That is why we can rarely solve it. We can only do what we can. The hardest thing to do is to not take it personally. As I said before, when we were students, most of us would have done anything and everything necessary to do well and to learn the material.

THEY ARE NOT US. We cannot try to understand them from our own perspective. If we really want to understand them, we have to look at their world from their perspective.

If we want them to be us, well, frankly that ain’t gonna happen.

If we want to survive them, then we need to register them on our radar, but refrain from locking in on them as a target.

If we want to help them, then we need to first accept them as they are. We don’t have to like all of their behaviors, or even tolerate those behaviors in our classroom. But we do have to accept that they are their own quirky, complicated, adolescent beings. And that they have the right to be a student in our classroom….even if they don’t always act that way.

We will also have to bring in a support system. For us as much as for them.

This may seem very difficult. But I promise you…this is REAL teaching. The kids that smile and do all of their work and raise their hands and try really hard. They don’t need you. They will flourish with any teacher. But the tough nuts? They need you the most.

with love,
Laurie

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.

Stopping For Signals…Archived Post 9.10.09

(This was originally posted 9/10/2009)

Today was the third day of classes.  This is the day that classroom management starts to kick into gear.  This is the day we start with the signal.  The first few weeks of class are designed with several purposes in mind:

  1. Interact with the students so that I can get to know them better as people and as students.
  2. Interact with the students in the target language so that they can acclimate to my voice and delivery of the language.
  3. Create a set of classroom routines that will make the entire year go more smoothly.
  4.  Model a number of behaviors so that the students will understand my expectations and begin to use those behaviors in class
  5.  Have students interact with each other in a variety of situations and activities so that they begin to be comfortable together as a group.
  6.  Incorporate as much of the target language into all of the above as possible!!!!!

The signal helps me with so many things, I cannot remember teaching without it!  The signal is basically an attention-getting device.  I use the term “signal” which I learned as part of a Madelaine Hunter training over 25 years ago!!  Elementary teachers, camp counselors, coaches, and scout troup leaders all use signals with their groups.  The key to a really effective signal is to make it interactive.

I start by teaching my students that when I (fake) sneeze that they need to say “Salud” AND THEN stop what they are doing and turn to face me in silence because I have something important to say.  We practice once and then I make sure that we use the signal several times that period.

It seems so simple.  You would be surprised how many students don’t get it at first.   High school students live in their own little bubbles of reality.  Sometimes it is hard to penetrate that bubble!  An entire class of 30 students can be sitting quietly, watching me, waiting for one student to realize that he/she is the only student talking (loudly!) in the room.  Even the friends he/she is talking to are ignoring him/her and looking at me and STILL the student remains oblivious.

The reality is that this particular group of students is not yet “tuned in” to my voice.  After a week, they are usually very responsive, but it takes the human brain some time to learn to connect with certain sounds, pitches and tones.    Developmentally I believe that adolescents are programmed to TUNE OUT ADULT VOICES.   I often think of the classic example of the voice of the teacher in the Charlie Brown movies.  No matter what is being said, all that the kids hear is WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH.

Using a signal to get students’ attention allows me to provide my students with a) a way to control sound and activity in the classroom b) interesting and useful phrases in the target language and c) extra opportunities to get “tuned in” to my voice.

with love,
Laurie

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.

When We Are In It Together Archived Post 2.10.10

It Ain’t Easy…Bein’ Sick  (this post originally posted 2/10/10)

For the last week and a half I’ve been fighting mano a mano with a sinus/double ear infection.   Between the two days with subs and the fact that talking sends me into long-lasting coughing spasms, my students and I switched from our usual dose of verbal interaction to activities that are more reading-centered and group/pair-oriented.

I like all of the activities.  I think that they are educationally sound.  I think that my students are getting a lot of good, quality, written Comprehensible Input.  But I am astounded at the difference in the classes.

First of all, discipline is off.  I have to employ signals and silences more often.  I really don’t enjoy that.  Neither do the students.   It isn’t a lot of extra tension…but it is enough to change the classroom atmosphere.

What is REALLY missing, however, is the strong sense of “being in this together.”  When they work in pairs or groups, when they work at an individual pace, there is no sense of collegiality.  There are no group “inside” jokes.   The class feels very different without that!!!

When I am “conducting” the class, and everyone is working on the same story/idea/conversation/topic, it is like being on a family car trip.  Sure, there is a little bickering.  Yeah, it’s annoying when someone has to stop and go to the restroom.   No, everyone does not like the radio station.   But….. there are  shared moments of hilarity and common experience that create an atmosphere like no other I’ve taught in.

I can’t wait to get back after a week of vacation (next week).  Hopefully the coughing etc. will have subsided and we can get to work on using as much Spanish as possible hanging out together.   The story of Ana and her adventures in Casi Se Muere are just more interesting when we read it, and talk about it,  together.   Not just at the same time in the same room.   But really together.   It goes from being Ana’s story to our story that we read about Ana.

Oh we’ll still do activities that allow students to work ‘out of the group”……but not as often.   We need that together time.   It’s who we are.  We all miss it.

with love,
Laurie

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.

Are We Even Making A Difference? Archived Post 1.25.10

Are We Even Making a Difference?

January can be a very bleak month in education.    The days may actually be getting longer, but the skies are so dark that it can be hard to notice.  We are being pushed forcefully through the funnel of midterm exams.    There is a feeling of frustration that we still have a half-year left and a feeling of desperation that there is only a half-year remaining.   We are getting closer to those days when school boards make the decisions that fund or eliminate our programs and our positions.  And we ask ourselves….

Are we even making a difference?

There were many Januarys (and Junes) when I was sure that the answer was no.

I was wrong.

I used to think that “making a difference” meant “fixing everything.”

I was wrong.

I never fixed a thing.  I never rescued a child from poverty.  I never saved a student from suicide.  I never turned a D student into an A student.

I never inspired a student not to drop out of school.  I never convinced every colleague to change a curriculum.  I never revamped a program that was a disservice to students.  I never turned an administrator into a building leader.

I never graduated a newly bilingual student.  I taught a rare few students who achieved a 100 on a state exam.    I couldn’t convince  a district to expand our program.    For fifteen years, I didn’t manage to take students abroad.   I didn’t coach a team that won a state title.

I often wondered WHAT I was doing.   I sometimes wondered if I should stop teaching.  I occasionally wondered if anyone would care if I did.

Then, little by little, the years went by.  Life forced me to look at things in a different way and my perspective shifted.  I realized that “fixing everything and saving everyone” were not part of my job description.  To be honest…..I figured out that for most teachers…there is no job description. …just a giant checklist.  A checklist that could never be completed.  So I stopped trying.

Realizing that I wasn’t saving/fixing the world and that I could never do it all freed me to finally do what DOES make a difference:  the day to day interactions with my students as citizens of the world.

My lessons became less about getting through the material and more about connecting the material to the student.    My focus changed from being the teacher to working with the students.  I began to listen.    I began to watch.   I stopped comparing my students to the ones I thought I should have and started to concentrate on appreciating the students I did have.

Students still struggle.   Students still fail.  Students still drop out.  Students still get pregnant, end up in rehab, get suspended, run away, and get sent to jail.   Parents may move them to another district.   Teachers may call them dumb or lazy.    Peer still talk them into unhealthy behaviors.   They still get cancer.   It wasn’t ever my job to stop those things.

It was my job to treat them as important, intelligent, interesting, capable individuals regardless of what what they did.  Regardless of what was done to them.

That I can do.  That really does make a difference.

with love,

Laurie

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.

 

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