A current thread on a listserv has to do with the behavior of students and how classroom rules can affect that behavior and give something positive to the students. As I was posting to that list on the issue of what to do about kids who appear not to want to “join the club” a la Frank Smith and I remembered that Smith has a FAQ section in Joining the LIteracy Club called “Postscripts” where he addresses this.
So I quoted from it thus (p. 124):
“… a teacher’s basic role in literacy education might be seen as
encouraging children who don’t want to, or who feel there is no place for
them, to join the club….. Every child knows that anything accompanied by
coercion, no matter how benign, cannot be worth doing in its own right.”
And then I saw these other lines, so good, so here they are: (from Frank Smith’s Joining the Literacy Club pp 124-5)
“…two requirements… first make the club interesting, which is basically achieved when teachers demonstrate that they know something the children don’t know, attracting their curiosity and arounsing their desire. Of course, teachers won’t do this if they never feel free to read a book silently in class…. Teachers must make their own values explicit. Children are always intrigued by things that adults enjoy doing – how else would they acquire all the habits we would rather they did not learn?
The second requirement is to make the club accessible, to show that every child can join. One of the paradoxes of contempoarary education is that children able to participate in formal school activities fairly effortlessly get lots of opportunity and encouragement while those who have problems or negative attitudes get fewer interesting experiences, relatively more difficult assignments, and more failure and discouragement. Obviously many of the constraints on reluctant readers and writers come from the structured and competitive nature of contemporary schooling. “Low marks” automatically exclude children from the literacy club….
To open the club to such students, teachers must take particular pains to make its activities distinctive from routine classroom activities, from the deadening aura of “school work” …”
And I could go on.
Just to personalize this, what did I do? I never assumed a kid coming into second year Spanish knew any Spanish (easy assumption). However, I gave them a list of words and grammatical features they were supposed to have learned, to make them aware of what their education is supposed to be about. But I did not hold that against them, starting them out at whatever point they were.
Students who transferred in late were in no way penalized. I told them I would grade them on how they came along in my class starting from right then.
I worked with each kid individually. The hard-heads needed a lot of play, some days tough and strict, other days full of praise for them, other days very casual encounters as we just “tried to make it on through.” I get a kick out of teachers who seem to think they are the first teacher this kid has ever encountered when, in fact, the kid has had 10 years or more of bad experiences at the hands of teachers.
If the administration did something that made it difficult to teach, I went ahead and taught. Big classes? I adjusted so that neither I nor the students suffered on account of that. Why should I grade a kid down b/c I had no time to work with him individually? If the public wants every kid held accountable, then they can get up off some money and make sure I have small classes. A wide range of abilities in the classroom? I let it be known I am there to teach EVERYONE – not just the kids who make me comfortable (BTW, I point out behaviors that make teachers comfortable and those that make them uncomfortable and why). If someone is SOOOO advanced, there’s plenty they can do, but no, they do ONLY what they are directly assigned. So if they finish an essay in Latin and want to work on math instead of extending their essay, that’s their choice; I just rub their faces in it. Don’t come giving me this “I’m so superior” b.s. and then doing only what you’re assigned.
I taught Russian and Latin in mixed level classes for 20 years. Do you honestly think I would be such a jerk as to say, “This is where you have to be, based on a normal class situation?” Of course, not. If the admin and the public behind admin want to give me mixed level classes, then I adapt to that, making sure neither I nor the students suffer for that.
And I have many more examples. You have to stand up to people who try to grind you down.
I personalized much of what I did in class, telling students about me and mine, my attitudes. They are interested in their teachers and will listen to L2 if you’re presenting interesting info in it.