Poster 6: Our Communication in Class
Unless our students reflect on what communication is, they may not be fully able to make the internal metacognitive changes required to make the new Star curriculum work for them. So, the purpose of this poster is to allow our students to reflect on what the Standard means.
Knowing what Communication means not only helps their grade - the classroom management piece is also involved here. We’ve talked about this already. The general idea here is that if we are to have good classroom management, we need all of our students to know what communication is and how it works and how if they don’t do what the posters say, their grades will suffer.
The better the communication in our classes, the better will be our classroom management.
Classroom management will work in our classrooms if we just have clear and simple and civilized conversation. This is opposed to when we try to “teach” the language. We know what happens then - there are usually management issues.
That is because no one can actually teach a language, as all the research so strongly indicates. Kids sense the force-feeding and rebel. Somewhere in their hearts they know that forcing a language on someone is wrong, so they resist.
Why not fix the classroom management issues at their source, where they lie in the boredom of force-fed language instruction? We must share pleasant and interesting conversation with our students, from whence derive the immense gains in proficiency that we get when we take trips around the Star with our students.
There is a French term, “L’Art de la Conversation” – leave it to the French to label conversation as an art form. But isn’t it true? Shouldn’t we be trying to converse with our students in our classrooms in an artful way and thus make the time we spend together interesting, instead of merely teaching them about how the language is structured, which is boring?
The following points made in Poster 6 speak to the idea of communication as artful:
Poster 6 - Point 1
“OK, we’ve made it up to Poster 6. Will someone please read the first point on the poster:
Someone reads it.
“This is really a very simple point, one that we’ve made earlier in other ways. Basically, if the Standard is Communication, and I’m supposed to grade you on how well you meet the Standard, then I will grade you on how well you communicate with me in class, right?” (Read it again.)
Poster 6 - Point 2
“Will someone read Point 2 on this poster?”
“To me, the most important words in that sentence are ‘will never be forced’. I just can’t imagine being forced to say something in [name of language]. It would make me so nervous, especially if I hadn’t yet listened to it enough! Are there any questions or comments on this?”
Poster 6 - Point 3
“OK, will someone read Point 3 on the poster?” (Someone reads it.)
“I think we’ve made this point before, right, on some of the other posters? It’s such an important point! You are just not ready to speak using lots of words in a level 1 language class unless you are an extremely fast processor, and there aren’t too many of those. Most of us won’t be able to say a complete sentence in [name of language] until level 2 or even level 3!”
“One time, a colleague who taught Spanish told me that she once had a student who didn’t say a single word in Spanish 1 and Spanish 2, but then in Spanish 3, he wouldn’t stop talking in Spanish. It completely surprised her. She just kept speaking Spanish to her students for the first two years and then the magic happened for that student because he was clearly so focused on the message for those first two years, even though he never said anything. That’s how it works!”
“But you remember that you do have to say simple things like one-word answers or just yes and no in class. You get that, right?
“OK, so now will someone read Point 4 on the poster?”
Poster 6 - Point 4
“This point is clear, right? We just made it. You won’t speak much this year, but if you listen well in class now, then you will be speaking a lot later when you are in my upper level [name of language] classes. You just have to wait and listen, listen, listen now.”
“By the way, my upper-level classes are not reserved for the so-called ‘smart’ kids. Do you know what I mean? Everyone is smart in this class. My [name of language] classes are for all my students, because it is a scientifically proven fact that everybody can learn a second language. So, the upper level classes are available to everybody.”
“To prove that point about how anyone can learn a language, listen to this: there are over 300 million French speakers and 463 million Spanish speakers in the world. And some of them are not considered to be super brainiacs - they’re just regular people who are fluent in the language because they hear it all the time and so they speak it. They listened as small children, they didn’t study a thing, they did no homework, but then time went by and they could speak it!”
Poster 6 - Point 5
“Will someone read Point 5?” (Someone reads it.)
“Now this point follows directly from the previous point. The one thing that could really mess us up in our listening efforts in this class will be people saying things in English. That is what we have to watch out for. It’s so important. That is why if you blurt out things in English you will get a low grade. Any questions on that?”
“Don’t worry about forgetting this point. I will remind you. The reason I will remind you to not blurt things out in English is because I want the students in here who want to learn [name of language] to be able to do that, and as I have said before I will fail anyone in here who keeps that from happening by opening up their mouths and speaking English at the wrong time.”
Say that last bolded sentence with power mixed with kindness. The early weeks of the year are the only time you have to make points like this. Don’t wait until it’s too late to become the unquestioned leader in the room. The kids who want to learn are counting on you.
Poster 6 - Points 6 and 7
“OK, let’s move on to Points 6 and 7. Will someone read both Points 6 and 7 together?” (Someone reads them both.)
“So, what do you think are the most important words in those two points?” (Give them time to think about that.) I think that they are fun, free, improvised and free of stress. Those are our goals in here this year. We want our classes to be enjoyable, basically.”
“In fact, Dr. Stephen Krashen, another great language researcher along with Noam Chomsky, has found scientifically that, and I quote, ‘the activities involved in learning a language should be perceived by acquirers as pleasant, because the activities that are not perceived as pleasant don’t lead to acquisition of the language.’ Do you think that we can make that happen in our language learning community here or will it be boring? It’s up to us!”
(If you ever get into a discussion with a parent or administrator about this, refer them to Krashen’s Pleasure Hypothesis. It explains the science behind the claim.)
“By the way, some classes can’t do this. They can’t learn like this. They need textbooks and worksheets. Usually, I have one class like that every year. It’s a real shame, because it’s not as much fun. We just do worksheets in here.”
“BUT, if I need to in here, I will go to the textbooks and the worksheets and the memorization way of learning a language with all the homework and big tests, and that will be that for the rest of the year. No end-of-year pizza party and all that, no easy grades just for listening. Just so you know.... Any questions about that point?”
Now move on to the last point on this poster.
Poster 6 - Point 8
“Will someone read the last point on this poster?” (Someone reads it.)
“OK, this point tells us what our main goal in this class is, so that’s a pretty big deal, right? And what is that main goal?” (Somebody reads it.)
“Yes, better communication is the main goal of this class. Because if we communicate better, not only will we learn more, but you will get higher grades, right?”
“I like that term: a ‘web of connectedness’. I know that doesn’t happen much in a lot of classes in school, but I want it to happen in here. Do you remember that quote from Noam Chomsky that I shared with you earlier? Here it is again:
“...[language] is acquired by virtually everyone, effortlessly...merely by living in a community under minimal conditions of interaction, exposure, and care....”
“So, do you understand from that quote that each of you has an important place in this group? It’s not just the ‘smart’ ones. I’m so tired of that word in schools. It’s a horrible word. Smart ones. What does it even mean? I hope that I’ve made myself clear that maybe there are “smart” kids in math class or like that, but not in languages. Do you remember that? I mean it. In fact, we need everyone to contribute to class for us to learn. We need everyone to succeed in this class.”
“So, we need to create a community in here, where everybody contributes, and then that will improve our chances of learning a lot of [name of language] this year.”
“Community is the big word in here. If we are going to learn [name of language] this year, we should want to be together and share ideas. Now look around the classroom and ask yourself if you want to be with these people.” They will probably look around the room and laugh, but say: “I get it, but we’re together for this year whether we want to be or not, and if we are going to learn [name of language] we should at least want to be together every day. Let’s try!”
“And we need to be intentional about being in community. (Discuss intentional as something that is “done on purpose, deliberately”). If we use [name of language] to build a community intentionally, then we can make sure that everyone in this class is a stakeholder in what we do. Everyone counts. What do you think about that?”
Discuss. You might even take a chance and ask rhetorically - without pointing to any one single individual - “Is there anyone in here who has ever felt excluded from a class they were taking? Was that fair?” You may want to say that one while looking up at the ceiling.
Don’t be afraid to “go there” on the inclusion piece. This is a teaching moment. Our country is in the depths of a national crisis over lonely children right now and ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
Finish the discussion of Poster 6 by asking the series of questions below. Do not ask for discussion on these points. Just ask the kids to reflect silently on them, without saying anything. Give them about 20 seconds after each question, or however long seems right for them to do some good reflection on each one.
“Now I want you to reflect on some questions that will be very important in what kind of grade you will get in this class. Don’t say anything, just pause and reflect silently.”
- “Have you ever actually been in a conversation where you felt that they really listened to you?
- Have you ever been in a conversation where you felt that you did a really good job of listening to them?
- Has that ever even been one of your goals - to communicate in meaningful ways with your friends in a way that guarantees their right to say what they actually think, and to make your friendship deeper?
- Is just enjoying conversing with your friends enough?
- Do you think our society will be better off when we start listening to each other better?
“OK, let’s wind up our discussion of Poster 6. I can guarantee you one thing - we are going to do our best to have interesting conversations in [name of language] in here, but I need every one of you to try your best so we can have that.”
“Personally, my goal as a language teacher has always been to be able to just relax and communicate with my students by using interesting, meaningful, relaxed and light-hearted language. That’s what I want from this class this year. If we have that, you will learn a ton of [name of language].”