Thursday, August 25, 2016

Seeing Your Students

One of the aspects of CI/TPRS which I have loved the most has been creating stories with my students as the main characters. Quite honestly, it has been for selfish reasons, because when I was learning Latin in high school back in the 80's, my textbook had no stories but rather very stilted sentences like "On the island, the farmer carries water to the daughter of the sailor" (which if the sentence were part of a story would actually be rather compelling). For me, using students as characters in a story is what makes the reading interesting and compelling for them. How I wish that my Latin teacher would have made Latin stories about my classmates and me!

From my students' perspective though, I now realize that when I create stories about them, they are not thinking, "Wow, this story is really compelling because we are in it. I am so glad Mr. Toda did that, because now the reading is so much more interesting." No, my students rather are thinking, "Wow, this story is about ME. Mr. Toda actually wrote a story in Latin about ME!"

Bryce Hedstrom, in his "Feeling Like a Citizen" presentation, quotes Matthew Lieberman:
Food, water, and shelter are not the most basic needs...Instead, being socially connected and cared for is paramount… our need for connection is the bedrock upon which the others are built.”  
                                                        - Matthew Lieberman, Social, p. 43
Mother Teresa says it best:
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love.
Just recently, my colleague Rachel Ash was writing an article on Comprehensible Input for submission to an online classical journal. When I asked her what she was going to include, Rachel said, "The main three parts of CI - comprehensibility, compelling, and caring." I was a little taken aback by her answer, because although I knew that it was important to deliver comprehensible, compelling messages, I had never heard about the "caring" aspect. Rachel continued, "Caring is what lowers the affective filter for students." I had never thought about it that way, but she is so right. When we as teachers "see" students for who they are and gain their trust, then they feel connected, thus their affective filter (and walls) lowers.

When I first started TPRS years ago, I lasted only 6 weeks before I gave it up and returned back to the textbook due to not knowing what I was doing. I only returned back to TPRS, because students were asking me, "When are you going to tell those stories again about US?" I have come to the realization that personalization of stories is one way to tell students "I see you." In the beginning of the school year, I am very selective of which students I make characters in my story, because I do not want to embarrass anyone or to bring unwanted attention. What I love though is over the course of the year hearing students gradually say, "When am I going to be in one of your stories?" In other words, they want to be part of the community now.

In a CI classroom, there are many ways to personalize the curriculum for students:
  1. Creating stories about students 
  2. Asking students for suggestions as to where the story should go (Asking a Story/TPRS)
  3. Personalized Questions and Answers (PQAs)
  4. Student jobs, such as the light monitor, grammar experts, word counter.
  5. Special Person Interview
  6. Social Emotional Learning
However, there are many other simple ways you can let your students know you "see" them outside of CI/TPRS.
  1. Greet every students by name when they enter the room. This actually sounds so basic, but if you really think about it, I wonder how many students' teachers actually greet them at the door BY NAME (I wonder how many teachers actually greet their students at the door). One's name is so personal to a person. To me, a basic greeting without a name can be blown off, but it is difficult to ignore when someone greets you by name. I always make it a point to stand outside my classroom every period and welcome each student individually with a smile by saying "Good morning/afternoon, _________" in English. I suppose that I should say it in Latin, but greeting them in English is important to me and a non-negotiable. It is even all the more important for me to greet students who have given me "trouble" in class or with whom I have had to talk after class the day before. I need for them to know that I am not mad at them and that I still value them as part of the community. Just recently, I was not able to greet a number of my students, because I had to reply to some emails. A girl who has been rather reserved with both me and the class came to me before the bell rang, saying, "You weren't at the door to say 'Hello' to me this morning." I was absolutely floored, and believe me, I was there the next day to greet her!
  2. Find out your students' interests and talk to them about it. I have a student who loves Pokemon Go. I have a basic idea of the app but have no clue what a Pokemon is (I thought that Snorlax was a nighttime, sleep aid), let alone would I try to catch one. However, at the end of class when there are a few minutes left, this student loves to come to my desk and to talk with me about the new Pokemon Go characters which he has caught, which ones he has yet to get, etc. Why, when he knows that I know nothing about Pokemon and have no real interest in Pokemon Go? Simply put: Because I enjoy listening to him tell me about it. Believe me, I am always asking him questions, and he gladly answers, even though he knows that I do not have a clue what he is talking about. However, because Pokemon Go is important to him, it is important to me, and I want to support him in this. 
  3. Talk WITH your students in class (in the target language or in English). I cannot tell you how many students have told me, "You're the only teacher who talks with us. Most teachers talk AT us." Students want a dialogue in the classroom between them and the teacher. Ask the class about their weekend, if they went to the school football game, who saw a particular movie, etc. Even better, tell them what YOU did over the weekend, what movie you saw, etc. Tell your students a story about yourself from when you were in school. Believe me, it both personalizes and humanizes you as a person in their eyes.
By no means am I an expert on this topic. Check out the following people such as Laurie Clarcq, Bob Patrick, Grant Boulanger, and Bryce Hedstrom who all know so much more about this, and I certainly know that they could state what I just wrote so much more expansively and eloquently.

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