Staying healthy and motivated – Chuck Sandy

Listen CarefullyChuck Sandy

Listen. When I hear people say things like, “I can’t seem to get myself motivated today,” or, “I’d like to spend the whole day doing nothing” I know what they mean because sometimes I feel that way, too. Yet I also know that no one really ever does nothing. I never do.

My nothing consists of walking nowhere in particular, pulling little weeds from my garden, and needlessly reorganizing my books. While doing these things I might look unmotivated and unproductive but it’s this doing nothing that motivates me to do more. It’s when I dream and think things through and I am telling you because I want you to know me. You understand this, right?

I also want you to know that this is why I love the procrastinators, the dreamers, and the nothing doers in my classes so much.  Getting to know who they really are is something else that motivates me. I think about them as I weed and walk and reorganize my books.

I know from experience that thinking of these people as unmotivated and taking them to task for not doing the things we think they should be doing will cause us to lose them. We don’t want that to happen. We want to pull these people in. But how? It’s simple: Listen.

Make them realize you believe their lives matter.  Do this by taking their lives seriously, believing in their potential and demonstrating that — visibly. In a culture where taking anyone’s internal universe seriously is increasingly rare, you just might be the only person who’s ever done such a thing for them. Talk about motivation!

If you are suffering from motivation problems yourself and think this sounds nice but wonder where it’s  leading, then I’d like to give you a challenge: Go to class, pick your most unmotivated student and find something to compliment him or her on. Say, “Where do you usually go shopping. I love your style” Or ask a question. Say, “You look really tired. Were you up late last night?” Then, listen. Repeat this process over the next few classes. I guarantee you’ll start to notice a change in both yourself and in your unmotivated student.

Now, start keeping an eye open for this student and other dreamers. Whenever you see them, stop for a chat.  Invite them to join you for coffee if appropriate. Listen and share. Talk about your day, about whatever is going on with you, about how you’re tired because you were up late watching stupid YouTube videos.  Tell them about your partner if appropriate. Refer to that person by name, as if these students were a part of your life. When they begin to understand they are a part of your life, they will start telling you about what’s going on in their lives.  When they do, listen carefully. Of course, this process works with colleagues, too, and I mean both those colleagues you see every day at school as well as the ones who make up your professional community online.

We don’t listen to each other enough. Even as teachers, we rarely talk with each other about what’s going on in our lives, yet I have come to believe this is absolutely necessary. We need to share more and  listen more carefully to each other. If we consciously do this, we will start to feel better about who we are and what we do. We will become less fearful, our confidence will increase and we will become more motivated.

This is what I was thinking about today as I weeded the garden and I wanted to tell you about it because I want you to know me. I want to know you too. That motivates me.

Strategies for large classes – Chuck Sandy

Chuck SandyInvisible Structures

In my bag there’s always a small fabric ball. As I begin working with a new class, I take it out and casually toss it from hand to hand. Then, as I ask a question, I make eye contact with someone, toss the ball to him or her, and softly clap my hands. It’s obvious to everyone in the room that the person with the ball is meant to say something. Of course I encourage that something and help as needed. Then, I respond to what’s been said and depending on what’s been said, clap my hands softly again and either gesture that I’d like the ball back or that I’d like it passed on to someone else.

When I take the ball back myself it means that I’d like to clarify something or build on what’s been said.  If I then set the ball down, walk over to the board and begin to write something, it means we’re going to do a little language work that I want people to take note of and build into their responses. If after tossing the ball back, I move to the back of the room, it means they’re on their own and need to direct their own flow for a while. If I walk to the front of the room and ask for the ball back, it means we’re changing activities. It doesn’t take long for everyone to get into the rhythm of this. The ball, the handclap, the way I move and the rather dramatic way I use my eyes make it seem like some kind of game. It’s not. It’s a playful structure.

Along the way, I model little strategies like saying the name of the person I’m going to toss the ball to with rising intonation; like saying uh huh when someone says Chuck? before tossing me the ball;  like saying hmmm, let me think about that a moment before replying.  All the while, my movements in class become a pattern everyone understands.

By the second or third class meeting, the ball becomes an unnecessary prop and all I need is the eye contact and the handclap.  By the fourth class, the handclap becomes unnecessary and then all that’s needed is the eye contact.  By the fifth class, I can let go of my ritualized movement. The structure is still there, though, but it’s now invisible.

My eyes say it all and it’s at this point that I can then step back.

Still, if things ever get out of hand, I can pull the ball out, clap my hands, and use my movements again to remind people of the structure without ever saying a word about it.  If things get really out of hand, someone in the room is likely to get the Chuck look which by this time everyone knows means “you’d better get back on task and stop doing what it is you’re doing.”  I never need to verbally chastise anyone. My eyes do it, but then of course, the Chuck look is followed by my smile to let everyone know that it’s all really okay and it always is.

While you may feel uncomfortable with the ball, the handclap, the dramatic looks and the ritualized movement that I use, what I recommend is that you find a structure that works for you, build it up and then dismantle it step-by-step until only the memory of it remains.  Whether it’s a class of 20 or a class of 100, doing this before you unplug and step back to just let learning happen will help tremendously.

Error correction – Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy Once upon a time we knew what language errors were, what caused them, and what to do about them. Back then, second language errors were just bad habits and like all bad habits could be overcome with hard work and will power. Then came the Interlanguage hypothesis leading us far enough forward to understand that second language errors might be part of a developmental process and nothing to worry about as long as Fossilization didn’t occur. I always loved that metaphor in which errors got likened to dinosaur bones so deeply buried in rock that nothing could be done except maybe blast away at them like the teacher in the Pink Panther film as she tries to get Steve Martin to say “I would like to buy a hamburger“. What makes this funny is that we’ve all been in this situation and know better than to think error correction like this can have any real effect. Right?

When I began studying Japanese many years ago, my wonderful professor employed a version of the Direct Method in classes full of lively drills of the ship versus sheep variety. In each class for awhile I always got called on to differentiate between a map and a piece of cheese — a sort of minimal pair contrast in Japanese involving vowel length. Sandy-san. Chizu desuka? Chiizu desuka? my professor would ask me while holding up a photo of either a hunk of cheddar or a map of Japan. It is a map? Is it cheese? I always got it wrong and not because I couldn’t tell the difference between the things, but rather because I couldn’t even hear the difference between the two words. Thirty years later I still can’t and always stumble whenever I have occasion to use the word cheese or map in Japanese — which is more often than you might imagine given that I love cheese and can’t read maps.

Interestingly, what got fossilized is not the bad habit of confusing cheese and maps or the error itself, but instead the memory of being corrected repeatedly in my professor’s very light-hearted way. It’s funny now, and it was even sort of funny then, but the moral of the story if there is one is that correcting errors just might actually have effects quite different than those you intend. Be careful of what you fossilize in the minds of your students.

Chuck Sandy