TRUST in the Language Classroom (guest post)

Dr Bob Patrick

Dr Bob Patrick

This practical exploration of trust is from a discussion about classroom management on an email group for language teachers exchanging ways of providing their students with Comprehensible Input (CI)*. I’m honored to share it here with the permission of its author, Dr Bob Patrick (@BobPatrick), Latin teacher and world language department chair at Parkview High School in Greater Atlanta. Bob was the Southern Conference on Language Teaching (SCOLT) Teacher of the Year in 2013 and has been a mentor of mine since 2007. His post provokes thought about the way teachers and students relate to each other and about the effect of this relationship on learning.

There is an awful lot that I could write about “classroom management,” but it boils down to one word–trust. Others have called it “love and respect.” Same thing.

So, what must precede the use of CI*/TPRS® is the question and the plan: what are you doing to create trust between you and your students? And, it’s a two way street. They must come to trust you, and you must be able to trust them to join you in the CI work each day. I’ve just read through all of the previous posts. Trust is the issue in all that has been offered. If students trust us, they go home happy and singing songs about how great their Latin (Spanish, Chinese, French, et al) class is. When they are happy at home about my class, parents love what I do even if they don’t understand what I do.

When students trust us, we can be intense with them, silly with them, routine with them, and ask them to do something that doesn’t make sense, and that works with the high flyers and the barometer students, though in different ways.

Building trust is not easy, and it takes a great deal of work on the front end. I can tell you what components I include.

1. I tell them about myself as a teacher and what motivates me–WHY I come to work each day–for their success in gaining the ability to understand, read, speak and write Latin.

2. I help them understand why I don’t ever do punishment (or reward) and why I don’t give homework. That gets their attention immediately, and it will take several more talks/illustrations about this before they begin to understand.

3. The DEA (Daily Engagement Assessments) are on the wall. Terry Waltz has five words**; others have statements. Mine are the usual CI things that must be in place–stolen well from Ben Slavic and others.  I don’t ever talk about these until AFTER I’ve done 1 and 2 above. These DEA only make sense when they understand 1 and 2 in some sort of way.

4. I make it clear that only an A or B is acceptable in my class because only those grades mean progress in the language. I explain how I use Standards Based Grading and how any Standard is always up for improvement. So, until the final semester grade is posted, no grade is final on any standard.

That’s enough. That’s a lot. Helping them enter into this kind of a classroom each day is a LOT of work up front because they’ve spent most of their lives and most of their day in classrooms that are behaviorist, punitive, candy driven, and where making mistakes results in a bad grade. I cannot change the rest of the school or other teachers, but I can change the kind of experience they have in my classroom, and it’s all based on trust.

I never try to make teachers new to CI think that this is easy or a magic bullet. No such thing. I’ve never worked harder in my life than I have as a CI teacher, but I’ve also never had better results.  I do say that to teachers new to CI, but I try to warn them that this is difficult work, heavy on the front end, and worth it.

*Comprehensible Input (CI) refers to spoken or written messages delivered in the target language in such a way that students can understand them “in real time,” rather than by “deciphering” them.

**Listen, Two, Stop, Grandma, Wow–i.e., Always listen with the intent to understand; use up to two L1 words if you don’t know how to say something in TL; stop the teacher if you don’t understand; don’t say/do anything that would upset the teacher’s grandma; express your fascination with the wonderful things we talk about.

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