“Kids can be so mean. It’s like they don’t even know that their words carry emotional weight. They say something and it just totally cuts you down…”
That is how I used to think. And sometimes it is still true about the emotional toll that the words of children take, but I’ve learned to not take it personally. I have realized, after a great long while, that their words and reactions probably have nothing to do with me or my class. Sometimes, people are just in bad moods. I think about how many times I have been curt or short with them because I was having a bad day and it reminds me that they are just kids and they lack the self-awareness that (most) adults have.
Boredom in Class
The reason that I bring all of this up is that I had a bad day on Monday. My first period (on a Monday) class didn’t want to do the work that I had planned. I had planned to do an embedded reading from the “Look, I Can Talk” text that I have been using. The kids did the reading ok, but then, when it came time to write, they hemmed and hawed and complained…and whined and protested and told me how sick of writing they are and how they don’t like writing about the stories.
The initial blow from this was huge. I was lost. I didn’t know what to do. I had a mutiny on my hands. Luckily, one of the kids suggested they do an activity that they do in science class where the teacher gives the kids a list of words and they connect the words with one line and show how they are / can be related to one another. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try. Better to have kids engaged and enjoying themselves than to have them fighting me. Even more luckily, they did the work and they did a great job. Even though I didn’t require it, many of the students wrote the sentences stating how the words were connected in Spanish.
It was risky to let the kids take over the planning of the day, especially when I didn’t have any back up plans, but I jumped in and tried it. What’s the worst that could happen? If the activity failed, we wouldn’t do it ever again, but if it was successful (which it was!), it’s something I can do again. I will develop it more thoroughly and get permission to use it and some clearer instructions and I will post up here as soon as I can for you to use.
Sameness = Dullness
After some reflection on what happened (and whole day thrown off by that bizarre, mutinous first period), I realized the issue. As I stated above, the problem is not that they think that I’m a bad teacher or that they don’t like me. It’s not really about me. It’s about them. They are kids. They are fickle and they are prone to wearing their emotions on their sleeves (they aren’t always good at expressing their emotions, but they will let you know in their own individual, special ways). The problem in a nutshell: They were bored.
Stories and embedded readings are great and doing them almost exclusively for a whole semester (only 2 classes a week, though) worked fine. But since we’ve come back from winter break, the students have been much less tolerant of sameness.
I decided to look at this in a positive way (see what I wrote about in #Teach2Teach Number 2). I decided to look at it from the perspective that the kids have gotten so good at reading the embedded readings and writing summaries and rewrites and original endings to the stories, that they need something more. They have achieved well in these areas and are striving for something new, something different, a new challenge.
#langchat-ers to the Rescue
Langchat is awesome. I have spoken of it many times and I will probably speak of it many more in the future. I have been in touch with so many great and generous teachers and I have become a better teacher through their help.
….Anyway….I went to the blogs–I follow the blogs of many people I know through #langchat. Last night I went to Martina Bex’s blog, The Comprehensible Classroom, and started looking around. I found this: Word Race Stories (follow the link for full details and instructions, this is just a quick summary of what I did and how it worked for me). Basically, print all the words that the kids have acquired on a piece of paper with some lines below. The kids get into pairs. When I call out a word, they race to find it first. The competition aspect was a real hit for my particular group today and they were engaged the whole time for this part of the activity (31 words!).
After this, the students wrote stories. They each wrote a sentence. We sat in a circle and the kids passed the paper to a new student. The new student wrote a new sentence, continuing the story. This went on for 8 sentences. Then, the students went back to their seats and wrote 50 more words (in the last 7 minutes of class) to complete the stories on their own.
The results are silly, ridiculous, and have some pretty well-written Spanish. The kids were engaged and they didn’t have anything like the attitude they had yesterday.
“It’s ok, Their Brains Aren’t Fully Formed Yet”
Those are the words a very wise woman once said to me during my first year of teaching. She meant it in a joking way, but if you think about it, it’s completely true. I didn’t know any better and I thought that the kids’ minds worked like adult minds. As it turns out, it is the students that don’t know any better. I took things personally. I didn’t think of what it was like to be a kid. I didn’t think about how it feels to be an adolescent.
Now, I always try to remember that phrase. The kids are developing. They are not fully formed human beings. They are not fully cooked yet.
If they are bored or tired of doing the same thing, they will let you know. They don’t always go about it in the most respectful and mature way, but they’re not mature yet. They try to be respectful, but sometimes the problem is that they don’t realize that they are being disrespectful. They don’t know that we might take things personally.
One of the things I love about teaching is that I get to start fresh every day. Yesterday was a bad day. Today, after a little bit of reflection on what happened and how I can meet the needs of the kids (and thinking about what those needs actually are), I was able to turn to a colleague on the other side of the country for help and find a new way to reach the kids and rekindle their interest in learning language.
Thanks to you @martinabex and thanks to all the bloggers out there who put yourselves and your work out into the world for the benefit of us all.