Compelling Diversions: “Who needs a Boost?” and “What would you like, today?

The longer I teach, the more I pull back the curtain, becoming more transparent with students in the room, and better-aligning my practices with core principles. An understanding of communicative purpose has really helped me eliminate some of the charades you tend to see everywhere. For example, what once began as reading textbook passages designed to teach a specific grammar point has now become me outright saying “today, we’re gonna learn about some grammar” (i.e. learning). No veil. Texts are now read for enjoyment (i.e. entertainment), or learning about the target culture (i.e. learning). Any collaborative storytelling or Write & Discuss (Type & Talk) results in texts (i.e. creating), though the process is often enjoyable (i.e. entertainment), and focuses on some topic (i.e. learning). Those three classroom communicative purposes: entertainment, learning, and creating, have all led to great buy-in and trust. The longer I teach, there’s just no need for any of the role-play and ruse within the classroom reality.

Well, it’s that time of the year when I get ideas on what to improve upon or do differently next fall. In particular, I’ve got my eye on a couple new transparent routines that are best established right from the start…

In the past, I’ve written about “compelling diversions”—those moments when class goes off-script because something captures the attention of everyone. My advice has always been to roll with these, and even try to carve out space for them to happen. I’ve even said things like “oh, you’ve just unlocked a feature of Latin class!” when this has happened. Yet why has it been locked away, and not even advertised?! This “boost” strategy makes that even more transparent by actually inviting students to create compelling diversions. Let’s face it—activities can drag a little, reading can be not super interesting to individuals, and students can be less focused on any particular day. It’s pointless to try to muster on without them, and a “boost” might be just what they need. The policy is simple:

Students can request something new at any time

…pausing whatever’s going on, either to return or to abandon it at the teacher’s discretion. The teacher can even initiate this, too. For example, while reading a chapter of a novella, the they could acknowledge students flagging, and ask “who needs a boost?” If any confirm, the follow up is “OK, what should we talk about?” Here, “talk” means students share something—probably in English—and the teacher facilitates a discussion in the target language, recasting whenever possible, follow up with Write & Discuss (Type & Talk), and then get back to the novella chapter, or not. In a way, this is almost like a target language brain break, but feels more genuine. Brain breaks are always pitched as a break from learning, although many of them sneak in target language, and have the chocolate covered broccoli effect. These “boosts” are student-centered, allow an “out” whenever an activity isn’t a home run, and build trust. This is win-win. Play around with the terminology, too. Does “jump” or “jumpstart” sound better? Is there some acronym from a target language word you can use? Be as creative as you want, just give students the opportunity to let you know something isn’t working for them, and address it, immediately.

What does this actually look like? Current events, preferential interests like music & movies, questions about school goings-on…basically a student-initiated Calendar Talk…whenever. It’s a break from the content and/or activity, not a break from the target language. If the purpose of class being interrupted by the compelling diversion really does involve something sequentially planned, then by all means get back to it by saying “OK, let’s do something new for 10min then get back to this. What should we talk about?” However, the communicative purpose is going to be covered by anything that follows in the compelling diversion, so you’re all set to let it run ’till the end of class if what you have planned isn’t dependent upon some other schedule—just one more reason to not plan an agenda more than a day or two out!

Quid velīs, hodiē?
Here’s another routine. I usually greet students at the door with a phrase of the week (i.e. class password), and have a short “do now” type start to class. Then, the very last thing before launching into any content is “how you doing?” which as of late seems like routine more than meaningful. This next idea might help extend the conversation, paving the way for even more compelling diversions to start class. When a student has given the “mala” response, I’ve asked “estne rātiō?” to see if they’re eager to explain, and then “estne sēcrētum?” as an “out” if it’s clear there’s really no reason for them to share with the class. However, replacing those follow up questions with “what would you like, today?” and providing three options (i.e. “space, to complain, support”) avoid making it seem super mysterious. For example, consider “yeah, I’m having a bad day because it’s a secret” vs. “I’m having a bad day, and I need space.” The latter is very real. Trust.

I also have students who enjoy making an event out of things—no judgement—and the “to complain” response welcomes that. Imagine what kind of discussion and then text you could get from these! Of course, the plan is to accept all English, and just recast in target language when asking others to agree, disagree, etc.

Quid velīs hodiē? poster

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