Today in class I was going over answers to an assignment, and when I called on a kid, he did a seven-second “ummmm.” Seriously, I counted. He was the fifth person I called on, and it hadn’t occurred to him to prepare an answer. Nobody was listening.
I walked over and switched on the English light. “Children, here’s a life skill. When we’re going over answers, and you see me calling on people, you should be preparing your answer mentally, just in case I call on you. Then, when I call on you, the rest of the class doesn’t have to wait for you to think. Because it is * EXCRUCIATING* to wait for you to come of with an answer from zero every. single. time.
I turned the English light off and continued with the answers, and the result was… AMAZING. Students were listening to each other, I could riff off their answers and make conversation in the target language. People actually heard each other make mistakes and correct them… and then AVOIDED making those mistakes when it came to them.
Ladies and gentlemen, this phenomenon is something that adults call “following along.” And what you may not know about teenagers is that they don’t follow along in Spanish class unless they are told specifically HOW to follow along.
I had been assuming for my entire career that teenagers knew how to follow along. When they didn’t follow along, I assumed it was because they were immature or uncooperative. Today I realize I have been wrong all this time. They had absolutely no idea how to follow along in Spanish class, until I explicitly told them how to… with their brains.
After school I ran into a student and said, “hey, remember that breakthrough we had today?” Yes, said my student, that was amazing! After that, I asked another student, and she had the same reaction…. “We could actually… have a conversation.” That’s what she said!
It used to be, I’d call on somebody to do number 10, and they when they heard their name, they said, “um…. what? …. um…. uuuuuummmmmmmm.” and I just wanted rip my own face off. Trying to lead a discussion with kids not following along feels like bleeding to death. And then when the kid is halfway through number 10, another kid busts in, interrupting, demanding to ask a question about number 3, which we had gone over 10 minutes ago. Because they hadn’t been listening.
“Come on, children, keep up! I’m giving away free answers,” I would say. And the students would look at me like i was bludgeoning them with the boredom stick.
Big breakthrough today. I don’t usually blog about students or what happens in the classroom, but today was a big day.