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Planning for A Structure Archived Post 12.27.10

Originally posted as For Chabe on 12/27/10

Chabe wrote and asked how to find ideas to teach a particular structure and here is my response:

Here are some things that you might be able to try….
The first thing that came to mind when I read “se siente sola” (feels alone) was the English phrase…feels alone in a crowd. Because teaching a language is really teaching kids to put meaning to sound, we want them to be able to visualize or feel what the meaning is. So I Google-imaged (new verb! ) “alone in a crowd” and found these:

Se Siente Sola

Se Siente Sola2

Se Siente Sola3

My guess is that you have several artistic kids who could, themselves, create incredible images for this.

Some questions that you could start with:

Where are people when they are not alone, but feel alone?
(a party, an airport, a train station, school, at home, the mall, the doctor’s office)

This is a good question to start with because they don’t have to talk about situations that they have been in personally…it is about places where, although there are lots of people, we might not know anyone, or we might not be understood. Which leads to the next question….

Do people feel alone in a ___________________ because they do not know anyone?

Next, offer them a series of reasons why people might feel alone…..
• They have a problem that no one knows about.
• They are missing someone special.
• They want to be somewhere else.
• They do not like what other people like.
• They do not usually go anywhere alone.
• No one is talking to them.
• They look different than other people.
• Everyone else has someone to talk to.
• They are treated badly.
• They learn something new and very surprising about themselves.

Next, give them a list of movies that they may have seen: (I Googled “movies in 2010”, thought about movies we have talked about, and used my own, very limited!!!!, knowledge to pick this list)

The Lovely Bones
Harry Potter
Dear John
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Charlie St. Cloud

A great movie for this that many of them have seen (and if they haven’t it is easy to describe and imagine) is I Am Legend with Will Smith (2007) where he is the last human survivor in NYC.

I simply ask them to match the movie with the situation…or situations.

Take Harry Potter for example:

Harry has a problem that his human family doesn’t know about, he looks different because of his lightning-shaped scar, he is forced to live under a staircase at his uncle’s home, he is an orphan, he just found out that he is a wizard, he has to go to a new school…it goes on and on!

Another good connection would be books that students may be reading or may have read as part of the English curriculum….or historical figures This is a great way to connect curriculum.

Our students read Alas, Babylon, To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men and several others that have characters that lend themselves to this discussion.

How about Rosa Parks? Martin Luther King? Abraham Lincoln? Anne Frank? Helen Keller? Albert Einstein? That list could go on and on…..

Even “famous” people who have “fallen”: Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Ben Rothlisberger….folks who may have felt quite alone when they had moments in which the world no longer saw them as idols.

These activities or discussions do not have to take a long time. They could simply be the topic for a quick discussion….or a longer activity….whatever works best with your students and your program.

Once students are comfortable with the topic, it is easier to switch into a more personal mode with them. Brainstorm with the kids things that people do when they feel alone.

This is a list that they truly already have the vocabulary for:
Cry, sleep, read, listen to music, get on the computer, call someone, draw, write, run, make plans.

Some of them lead into good discussion:

Do you listen to sad music or happy music? Which singer/band is good when you feel alone? Why do some people read and other people run? Why do some people like to be alone? Who do some people hate it?

Create characters for students to identify with:

George would pay $200 to be alone for an entire day.

Let them create a life that would make George want to be alone. They will draw from their own experiences, I guarantee it!

Angus has to stay at his grandmother’s house and dog-sit on Halloween night. She lives in the woods, the weather is horrible, and the electricity often goes out. Who does he ask to hang out with him and how does he convince them to go?

Googling “se siente solo” and “me siento solo” I found these songs:

Me siento solo http://www.metrolyrics.com/me-siento-solo-lyrics-frankie-j.html

Hoy Me Siento Sola http://mis5sentidos.blogspot.com/2008/08/hoy-me-siento-sola-cancin-de-mariana-de.html

This one came with this: Una canción que describe como nos sentimos aveces cuando estamos tristes, realmente una linda canción que lo escuchabamos en la escena que Mariana se sentía trizte de la telenovela “Mariana”.
And a video…
And these comments as well:
me siento sola es verdad lo k aveces sucede en los adolecentes
ps la knción me identifik cuando sty deprimida..
esta muy linda…..
es lo sentimos muchos nos los adolescentes
esta canciòn esta super chida te puedes identificar con ella por que hay veces que nuestra vida se vuelve un tormento.
if you would like to mention how teens write on line in Spanish :o)

When I get into these conversations with kids I want them to understand the following:
• These feelings are universal. Every human, be they adult or child, male or female, rich or poor, from any kind of family will experience these emotions.
• There are positive outcomes from negative feelings. (learning to relate to others, having time to think/feel/process, trying new things, meeting new people, finding new strengths in ourselves..)
• We can take an active role in improving our situation.

I hope that this post helps a bit!

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.

I’m Losing Them Archived Post 1.13.13

(Originally posted 1/13/13)

Many of my colleagues, whom I love as a family (who doesn’t after 25+ years in the same building?) have a very traditional view of education. They may have brought some of the activities into the 21st century with technology,but the philosophy is the same:

a. Some people are smart and some aren’t.
b. Schools are for, and should reward, the smart people.
c. Teachers are the smartest people of all.
d. Students who agree with a,b, and c will be the best students.
e. Every one else is not going to be successful in life.

This is enhanced by the fact that I teach in a small community with a very distinct social hierarchy. A hierarchy that is repeated generation after generation, because most people stay in the area. It is not unusual for students to be living on the same land that was farmed by their great-grandparents.

They teach in a way , and assign work, that they like. They are so convinced that they know best, that they cannot be challenged, and will not engage in discussion about other options. Frankly, I myself was like that in many ways myself. I was always considered smart and a good student. I considered myself a good teacher. It was humbling, and difficult, when I began to realize that I was only a good teacher for certain students. It was a principal who pointed that out to me. Why? Because I was teaching his son, who was not a “good” students. I am grateful that he showed me how I was mistreating and mis-teaching his son….because at the time I really had no idea that I was.

My son, as many of you know, deals with anxiety and depression. In high school,when he was not in control of those challenges, he was considered disengaged, lazy, etc., etc. In reality, he was barely functional because it took all of the energy he had to simply be present. Even after his diagnosis was explained to his teachers (my colleagues), they continued not only to view him that way, but to ask him why he was so lazy, and discuss his “laziness” with other students on a regular basis. Since then, I have tried very hard to see my own students with more accurate eyes. What I have found over and over again, is that students who don’t work have reasons. Many times, as an adult, I wouldn’t see things the way that they do. However, the majority of the time, I am blown away by what they are dealing with.

As I have expended more time and energy into getting to know students, I have also come to see that my goals, and their goals are sometimes miles apart. THIS is what creates the greatest gap with my students.

In some ways, this gap is necessary. I’m an adult. I have knowledge and understanding and perspective that they do not yet have. I’m supposed to use that knowledge to help them to become adults themselves. My mistake, too often, is to forget that they are not yet adults.

They are adolescents and adolescents are wired to have a cynical view of adults. It is one way in which they separate themselves from the adults in their lives and begin to develop their own thoughts and views. We have to accept that if we work with teens. But this group of adolescents is coming of age in a world that is different from any world that mankind has ever known. I suppose that all generations have a unique quality that makes them different from the previous ones, but this group? This group has two distinct new realities:

1. They have all of the known knowledge, and emerging knowledge, of the world at their fingertips. In 5 seconds or less and getting faster every minute. Past generations (back to the beginning of mankind) have always relied on the older generation for knowledge. This generation doesn’t have to. They are teaching themselves and learning on their own all the time. It will change how the young perceive the old. It has to.

2. At the same time, they have knowledge and skills (in the realm of technology) that the previous generation does not. It is, in many ways, flipping our generational reality upside-down. This generation has a sense, if not a full-blown knowledge of this new reality. It changes how they relate to adults. I believe that it is going to change society. It has to.

So, instead of growing up on a society that revers and respects adults for their knowledge, they are growing up, with cynical adolescent minds, knowing that they have as much, IF NOT MORE, access to knowledge as the adults that are attempting to educate them.

In addition, they KNOW that they will be adults in a world that doesn’t need to look to anyone for knowledge and information. This changes our roles, as adults and and teachers, and we need to figure out what our new role is. Why? Because we cannot teach if we don’t have students….and bit by bit, our students do not see themselves as students. Or at least students of something that we have to offer.

At the same time that this is occurring, the educational world is requiring us to be even more “information-driven”!!! What we are supposed to be giving them is the one thing that they least want and need!!!!

So now we get to the dilemma. This kids have tuned out and what do we do?

Truthfully, all of my philosophical rambling may not be Kevin’s dilemma. They may just be under-rested, under-caffeinated and under-motivated.

Either way, getting to know them and their goals for the course and for life never hurts. At the very least, when we understand where kids are coming from we tend to take their disengagement less personally. We can say, quite honestly, “Well then, you are making a personal choice to not participate. The consequences of that will be ______________” If we know their goals, we can have conversation with them about the benefits of having different goals…and why we think that different goals are possible and worthwhile for them. Many students think that teachers care more about themselves than about their students. This era of grading teachers based on students’ results is not going to help that any. Honest conversation about our own goals in life and our goals for our students may appear to fall on deaf ears, but they will hear us. We just may never see the results of that.

I’m going to wind this up with something that you have heard me say before: Teaching is a prayer. We offer our lessons up to the greater good, hoping, because we have no other choice, that good will come of it….even if we never see it.

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.

Challenges of Poverty Archived Post 8.7.12

(Originally posted 8/7/12)

You are not an isolated example but you are a rare one. I’ve taught high school students for 30 years in a rural area. The students whose families are above the poverty line are the ones who, overwhelmingly, hear messages of hope and support for a financially stable future via education. Those whose families live at or below rarely see outside of their own reality. In many cases, in today’s world, they have more financial aid available to them..many could go to college for little or nothing…but they and their families see little value in education. They do not even consider future careers that require education. That is clear by the time they enter ninth grade.

First of all, school is a different world than it was. While wealth has always helped, my observation is that more and more, a family’s financial background comes into play. Because so much emphasis is put on the data, more and more rewards are given to students who do well, STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN. Students who do well often come from families who read to them from an early age, can afford a good preschool program, ate well and exercised well and slept well the first five years of life. Kindergarten teachers are remarkably accurate in their ability to predict who will graduate from high school and who will not. Some of that may be from experience. Some of that may be because, in kindergarten, we have already identified who will be successful, who will not, and treat them that way (whether we realize it or not). Families with means will encourage students to play sports, take music lessons, have art supplies at home, provide computers and computer access from an early age. They will travel. They will encourage behaviors that will be encouraged at school from infancy…whereas families from lower-income social groups will not…without even realizing it.

It is not just the availability of money that makes the difference (although I promise you that a third grader who uses a computer and can afford a trip to the nearest arts and crafts store for his Solar System project will receive a much higher grade than the kid who did his on the back of a letter from Social Services.) It is the MINDSET of possibility (my own term) that money brings that is the biggest difference.

I am sure that Pat Barrett could explain it far better than I, but what I see is that these families require each member (in the family and it also often includes people in their “community” to be HIGHLY interdependent. These students have emotional, financial and social commitments early on in life. They are EXPECTED to stay home from school whenever a baby sitter is needed, or some stressful situation arises and a family member needs support. They frequently have adult responsibilities by ninth grade: paying bills, child care, negotiating disagreements between adults, visiting family in jail, arranging doctor’s appointments etc. It is very very difficult for them to even imagine taking enough personal time away from their families to put homework first, give up work time for classes, or even worse, leave home to go to college.

The other issue is harder for some of us to understand, but I assure you that it is very real. There is a cultural understanding in these families, that going to school and doing better than one’s parents is an insult to them. That a student would think himself better than a parent, and to act on it, is in many cases, unforgivable and therefore, unthinkable. The family is not going to ‘move up” with the student. In order to do better, the student would, eventually, have to leave the social environment in which s/he lives. In this kind of “closed” community, that rarely crosses their mind. They simply would never think of it.

The third issue is that doing well academically routinely requires delayed gratification…and that is simply NOT part of their reality either. But that is a deeply rooted, psycho-social phenomenon that I;m sure is dissertation-worthy, so I’ll leave it at that.

There are students who do it. And we encourage every single child to become what God would have him or her become. But, teachers are one tiny OUTSIDE voice among many closer and louder voices that they hear every day.

For me, that is the attitude of the home and surrounding environment, and my experience is that it is closely tied to families without financial resources. Can addressing poverty help that? In the sense that students might then NOT have to take on so many adult responsibilities..yes.

In addition, I believe that it would surprise many to know how many students ONLY eat at school. 1. There isn’t food at home. Either there isn’t money or the money is used elsewhere and that is beyond the student’s control. 2. High school students from these families often work evenings and do not use their money to buy dinner. It goes for gas to get to work. 3. Believe it or not, many of these homes actually LOCK up their food. For some, it is a way of controlling their children. For others, it is a way of protecting the food, many of these folks live in “communal” family situations (3-4 “families” in a household) and this is simply how they protect their resources. Also, parents who are addicts often have paranoid behaviors that lead to this…as do many parents with untreated mental health issues. (two situations which are prevalent in my area in this income bracket)

The last piece that adds to the challenges that these children face is the fact that they rarely get a good night’s sleep. They may not know where they are sleeping. They may be avoiding sexual contact from someone in the house. They may have family members up all night playing loud video games, or drinking/using drugs, arguing, etc. They often have younger siblings to take care of at night if mom works overnights. They don’t get the medical attention and medications they need when they are ill and sleep very poorly due to a number of ongoing physical ailments. They often live in crowded houses/apartments with little personal sleeping space available.

One might think that given all that they face, that they would love to get the heck out of Dodge and take advantage of a good education to do it. Well…not if they have never seen that happen. Not if, from kindergarten on, only the “rich” kids do well in school. Not if they have been an integral part of a system that requires them to put today in front of tomorrow.

Exceptions exist, they truly do, but not as often as we’d like. All human beings have their challenges, each child, regardless of his/her background can become far more than his/her childhood has dictated. But before that can happen, the possibility of such a thing must exist in his/her mind. Your family may have given you that. Let’s hope that we can find the resources to help those who weren’t so blessed.

with love,

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Anticipate Joy!! Archived Post 4.10.13

(Originally posted 4/10/13)

Because it’s coming. Oh yes it is. And sometimes when we least expect it. As TPRS teachers,in our department, direct grammatical instruction is “postponed” until year three or four. By this time students have acquired a good base of language. They only need grammar if they want to be successful in a college program that will, most likely, be grammar-centric.

So, since it was coming up on the last marking period of the senior year, I thought I’d give them their first “grammar-driven” unit. I started with the subjunctive, including formal commands (positive and negative) along with the negative informal commands….and just for fun the nosotros too. Oh…making sure to add in the use and placement of direct, indirect and reflexive pronouns. (no, they don’t know the linguistic terms for those but that didn’t seem to be a problem) We’ll finish the direct study and guided practice tomorrow. They have been doing online independent practice and Friday, when half of them are on a field trip, the rest of us will head off to the computer lab for a little more time.

Where’s the joy? Well……they’re enjoying it for one. All of them, even the ones who are not college-bound or have no desire to take a college-level language course. In fact, those kids may be enjoying it more than their classmates who, after years of indoctrination, worry a little too much about getting everything right. Today I got to spend a good twenty minutes standing in the back of the computer lab watching them cheer and high-five each other when they successfully took on a number of Quia challenges on commands and the subjunctive.

(FYI, the formation and use of the subjunctive is a fairly difficult grammatical concept to teach, and the rules for creating the different kinds of commands are complex. And of course there are a slew of exceptions and irregulars)

Okay, that’s a geeky kind of joy, but it is joy nonetheless. It makes me very, very happy to see good ole farmboys and girls from our school on the hill rocking a grammar quiz.

Then, one of them turned around to me and said, “You know what’s weird Profe? None of the people who designed these games seem to care if we have any idea what these words mean. They only want to know if we put the right letters in the right places. How weird is that? Makes no sense.

Luckily we already know what they mean.”

Dance. of. joy. :o)

Lesson learned. Anticipate joy. You never know when it will show up.

with love,


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A “Reflection” As A Character!! 9.15.12

(Originally posted 9/15/12)

I am so excited about the new students that I have!! This week they came up with a great idea…

I was just beginning to ask a story and we had a character, Mia, who was putting on makeup in the mirror in the bathroom on the second floor of her house. The class had decided that it was a full-length mirror. The actress was up in front putting on makeup and it was going fairly well.

In order to get to know the kids better, and for them to connect with me and each other, I have been trying to get as many students involved in as many ways as possible. So, I asked a girl who was similar in height, build and hair color to come up and be the reflection.

She was PHENOMENAL!! It was so funny to watch!! Then the class decided to name her Pia!!!! And now there were double reps! Mia puts on lipstick like Angelina Jolie and Pia puts on lipstick the same way. They put on lipstick like Angelina. (and with sing/plural!!) I thought it just couldn’t get any better than that! And then…..

At one point, Pia, the reflection, wasn’t paying close attention and missed doing something. I said to her in Spanish, “Pia, you are a reflection, when Mia does something you have to do it too.” I was just trying to get in a little more Spanish, but it backfired on me. I could see that she was embarrassed and felt that I had yelled at her. Suddenly one of her friends called out in Spanish, “She wants to be different!”

OH MY!!! A huge smile lit up her face and she said “Yes…I want to be different! I don’t want to be a reflection!” So it was decided, that when Mia was looking in the mirror, Pia did the exact same thing, but when Mia wasn’t looking at the mirror, Pia would do something different.

Oh the fun and the reps we got out of that one!!!! I am definitely bringing Pia back into stories again!!! (hint: at one point in the story, have the actor/actress get very close to the mirror…the actors/actresses end up nose to nose…hysterical!!!!)

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.

The “Uninterested” Archived Post 11.7.10

(Originally posted 11/7/10)

Marc has started an amazing forum for TPSRers in Japan. His thoughtful questions generate a lot of discussion. I responded to one of his posts on that list and wanted to share that answer here because we all have those “uninterested” students.

Dear Marc,

I wonder if it might be worthwhile to look at a couple of other options. It may be that your lower-level students are not skilled at using their imagination or visualization skills. So not only are things that aren’t about them not interesting….they don’t exist literally…they can’t “see” anything that you are talking about and so they definitely get bored with that information.

Students who are very literal often display some or many of the following characteristics:

* they answer in one or two word utterances even in L1

* they don’t ask questions/display curiosity

* they like activities which result in a concrete result ie a game w/ a score

* they value personal privacy

* they see information of any kind on a “need to know” continuum…if they don’t have a concrete reason to need to know/share, they don’t.

* they are often very good at mechanical skills: fixing an engine, building etc.

* they do not enjoy reading

* they prefer action films to romance/comedy etc.

These students actually need storytelling, but are missing a key skill: imagination. They are the students who need, in increments, illustrations and the opportunity to add details to stories so that they can “see” what the story is about. They need to start with short stories and build as the year progresses to longer pieces. They need immediate feedback.

Another possibility is that these are students who have no idea that they can be successful. They have been labeled for years as “low-achieving”. They don’t even see themselves as students and here you are expecting them to pay attention and answer as students. It may take a while for them to begin to see that this IS something that they can do. Then, even when they do begin to see themselves as successful, they may freak out and react to that as well. It may always feel like you are pulling teeth with these kids because you will be. They stopped giving willingly in the classroom shortly after their first days of school when they realized that the system was not for them and didn’t like them. (even if the Japanese system doesn’t “fit” that concept, human beings do.

Regardless of the culture that we grew up in, we all have a need to be recognized and appreciated. )

These students will not respond as predictably as your higher-achievers, but their progress will be incredibly powerful and rewarding….and they willl progress!!!! The difference is that high-achieving students tend to progress predictably and in a linear fashion. This group will lay “dormant” for periods of time and then make leaps when you least expect it. That is how they grow. But they are the students for whom TPRS can be life-changing. Teaching them can be career-changing. Keep us posted!

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.

First Goal Archived Post 9.3.10

(Originally posted 9/3/10)

There are so many things to get done the first week!!! It is sooooo tempting to want to jump right into “Spanish” and start “teaching.” But the truth is…..that would be feeding my need and not addressing the needs of the students. I may be chomping at the bit to get them listening, reading, speaking and writing….but they could care less. About Spanish anyway.

They are excited to be back in the building. They have missed seeing their friends, their peers and, yes, even their teachers. They have missed having a routine. The building is buzzing!!! Then the bells ring, the doors close…and the silence begins.I want that excitement to continue in my room…even after class starts. That energy is the life-blood of the language classroom. If I push them right into my idea of a Spanish lesson I am setting myself up for a huge face-plant. Pow. Right onto the linoleum floor. Students have been trained to sit down, shut up, stare straight ahead, and to nod appreciatively so as to appear engaged.

The minute I go into “teacher mode”, they go into “student mode”, and I am back in the face-plant position.

Luckily for me, this year I have a student teacher. He is new to a small rural district and there are a lot of things that he will be getting used to in the seven weeks that he is here. So, our theme for the week was : Start to Get to Know Each Other.

I’m in the highly unusual position this year of knowing nearly every one of my students. It’s never happened before, and it’s not likely to happen again. The timing, however, is beautiful. I get to sit back and watch as my student teacher and my students get to know each other. I can introduce them….but they are the ones who have to do the rest. Getting to know each other is not an easy task. It cannot be rushed. All good things take time.

First, of course, is the pesky job of learning all of their names. It’s not as bad as it could be; I only have 110 students this year. But let’s face it….that’s one tough job….matching 110 names to faces….in as little time as possible…because the more quickly he learns those names, the better.

(BTW…I’m not worried, my student teacher is light-years ahead of where many experienced teachers are. He has great instincts…a most impressive young man.)

Some of the students made themselves known right away. They got to class early or hung around after everyone else had left. They wanted to come in after school and look for opportunities to ask a question or to help out. They wanted to, or needed to, be at the top of the “I know you” list.

Some of them sit in the front row during class….some sit in the back. They have a need to carve their place out right away. They aren’t as hard to get to know….and I am always grateful for their direct approach. No ice-breakers needed. HERE I AM!!!

The next-easiest group to get to know is the group of students that is most like us. They laugh at our jokes. They respond right away if we mention a favorite t.v. show or sports team. They remind us of ourselves at that age. I’m pretty sure that my student teacher has already begun to identify these kids. (like I said….he’s sharp) It will be my job to make sure that he finds ways to feel as connected to the rest of the class as he could to the ones that are already the first ones to come to mind.

What we tried to do this week was to set up the classroom, physically and emotionally so that everyone would be accessible and would be able to find a way to be accepted. Including the teachers. Although we will add a new goal for next week, this week’s goal will become this year’s goal.

Get to Know Each Other.

It’s the assignment that I gave my seniors. It’s the assignment of a lifetime.

With love,

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Teachers Must Model Behaviors Archived Post 8.20.10

(Originally posted 8/20/10)

The kids really need to be able to trust each other in our rooms. Getting to know each other really makes that easier when that process is guided by a trusted, caring and thoughtful teacher. Again…as in most of what we do, it’s not WHAT we do, but HOW we do it that makes the difference. Letting other kids “in” to their world creates an enormous minefield for many students…and some will not just balk, they will just shut down completely.Some thoughts…after reading these, knowing many of you and having worked very hard at this in my own room for long time….

a) The teacher needs to model EVERYTHING. We cannot take for granted that kids know how to get to know other people. The fact is ….they have little experience in this..very little. What do we need to model?

* the appropriate kind of information to share (short, detailed, but nothing that will make other people uncomfortable to know!!)

* the appropriate way to share it (w/o innuendos, sarcasm, self-deprecation)

*when to share it (in an activity or in order to connect w/someone else)

*how to listen w/caring and genuine interest when other people share

*how to respond to other people when they share

*how NOT to gossip about what has been shared (it may seem advantageous to share tidbits about students with other classes but it’s a trust-buster…)

*how to gently step in when the sharing is going the wrong direction

*how to ‘hook into” the information/feelings that have been shared so that it becomes part of the relationship within the class.The other thing that I think is really important here goes back to a post that Ben put up a few days ago. Students need to believe that it is safe enough in your room to create a “Spanish class” Persona in order to participate. Not all kids need one. Some kids wear one around every day.

Some kids are naturally too “transparent” to even know what one is. But you will have at least one, and probably several students, in each class that will need some support in making this happen.

A student who is struggling w/his or her sexual identity or preferences will be very cautious about sharing anything. These students have learned that the slightest reveal can set off feelings in themselves, or reactions in others that are hard to deal with.

A student who is dealing with being the object of abuse: emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual has been “trained” for a long time to not reveal, anything.

A shy student may be totally overwhelmed by receiving that much attention, even for a few minutes.

A new student, very aware of how quickly first impressions can carve out a social existence, may need to welcomed with great love and care.

A student with a “I don’t give a crap” persona (which of course we know is usually hiding a “I care too much or I can’t afford to care” attitude) needs to be given the leeway to share without totally surrendering that carefully crafted “I don’t give a crap” masterpiece.

I’ll be honest…I teach in a district where everyone “knows” everyone (at least they think that they do). It’s a fishbowl kind of a world and attitudes are set pretty early on. Every year, but particularly senior year, I begin the year with a clearly-stated goal of each student working with, accepting and hopefully getting to know the other kids in the class (not liking, this is not required)

I work, every day, in every activity, in every interaction towards this goal. And there are some groups that fight me all the way to the end because their need to control their world is so strong.Don’t give up. Every moment is another opportunity to build those bridges. If no one crosses them, so be it. Not only did you give them the opportunity to cross bridges, you gave them the opportunity to see them being built.

There will come a time in their lives when they need to build a bridge. It may not come in the time that you have them in class….in fact, it probably won’t. Just as our students “unconsciously” learn language, they “unconsciously” remember the doors you have opened and the bridges that you have built in front of them. If the need is strong enough, and other factors fall into place, every single thing that you did in class will have made a difference.

The easiest thing to do when trying to get a class to bond…is to try to get a class to bond. No can do. So when it doesn’t happen the way, or in the time frame, that you would like, try not to take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about a bigger picture. Our job as teachers rarely allows us to step back and see the piece created. It is our job to get in there with the brush and to keep painting…hue after hue, layer by layer….so that the piece will indeed exist.

with love,

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Output for a Purpose (not Acquisition) Archived Post 5.18.10

(originally posted 5/18/10)

It was a lot of fun.  :o)  A little background…this is the week that our seniors finish a year-long endeavor known as THE SENIOR PROJECT.  It culminates in all 120+ kids arranged with display boards explaining their research and results to the general public.  They are “on” for six hours, talking to strangers about their research and conclusions.  There are a lot of steps involved in being prepared and they are all about to tear their hair out before it’s done.

So yesterday, the day before the BIG EVENT, we had a Whiner Day to kick off Whiner Week.     I put about twenty-five “whining/complaining expressions” on the SmartBoard.  They each had about five minutes to create a mini-graffiti wall about the topic of their choice.   As seniors, they had a number of topics to choose from!    (I played some edgy rock in the background while they created)

Round one:

Each senior found a partner and stood face to face.  They showed their Whiner Wall to their partner.  Each student got sixty seconds to whine.    The partner had to respond to each complaint in Spanish with an “I know”  “Oh yeah”  “I agree”  “What a shame” etc.

Round two:  (you can change partners but my kids were just warming up so I let them keep their original partner)

Each senior took one giant step backwards.   They held up their Whiner Walls and had 45 seconds to whine again.  (of course, it had to be louder since now they were farther apart!)  They alternated with their partner using responses.

Round three:

Each senior took another giant step backwards.  This time they had 30 seconds to whine/complain…again…upping the volume.They alternated with their partner using responses.

Round four:

Each senior took another giant step backwards and AT THE SAME TIME whined and complained. for twenty seconds.  By this time, they were really comfortable and pretending to be really mad/upset…it got very very funny!

Round five:

Each senior chose a new partner and sat at at desk…face to face with the partner.   They alternated complaints……First one partner would whine one statement and the partner would respond.  Then the partner would whine one complaint and get a response.    They each complained 7 times.

Round six:

We repeated round five….except…..each time a student complained s/he would pound the desk with both fists.   Five complaints each.

Round seven:

We repeated round six…except…each time a student complained AND each time his/her partner responded, they would pound the desk with both hands.

By the end we were hysterical!  It was a great tension reliever for all of us.  :o)

Output?  Oh yes.  But sometimes you just have to let it out!!

with love,

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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,

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