Personalization and Names

When we build identities, so important now as we begin the year, there is no rush, in my view, to get the names out. For me, the names emerge organically. That is to say, from basic and authentic human interaction as it occurs with your students in a natural way.

You dance into an identity with a kid. You may perhaps learn a little fact in class while circling with sports balls or in some other identity building activity. Or the fact may emerge in the hallway. It may look so small. But you keep it, keep it, in your mind, like a treasure, and when the right moment arrives in class, you play the name.

Names EMERGE. This is such a fine thing. You are a watcher of the process, a contributor, to be sure, but you don’t have to be clever and put the naming game all on yourself. They don’t want you to. They want in on their names.

They may act amused if you tell them that they are Pablo, but they resent it on some level. You labeled them without getting to know them. Why do that, when the creation of funny, organically emerging names that reflect the REAL KID, is so crucial, so crucial, to your success.

When they have seen you pull an organic name from one kid, they are just waiting to see what you do with them. Even if it takes seven months, it is still better than the other way of branding.

So go ahead, get to know them, and wait, wait, and the name will emerge. Some names happen in the first interchange of the first class because of something the kid did that was unique and worthy of a cool name right away. My Pencil Man.

Or it may take forever, like with The Boy Who Goes in Front (who had walls up, walls). So I waited, waited, and moved my chair figuratively closer just a few millimeters every day for six months, waiting for his name to emerge.

Establishing identities is a very delicate little art form of waiting, wating, and then a little thought will appear in class, or some little event that no one but you notice happens, because you are watching, watching, because you know that meaningfully personalizing your classroom is what you want to do.

You would no more tell a kid their name then tell them a story. Instead, by asking, asking for information about them, about them, you suggest from what you know, and you house it in humor.

A petite arrière chambre voice in your mind says, “Hey, that kid over there who never says anything in class just said to a friend in the hallway outside your door that he ate 9 donuts from Albertson’s in five minutes this summer.”

This is major information. So you yell down the hall how impressed you are with that and ask him if you can use that in class and he mumbles something but you see in his eye a look of recognition and from that little look emerges not just the name but HIM as your student WITH AN IDENTITY and now, only now, can you set yourself to the task of teaching.

Because when a kid has an identity EVERYTHING CHANGES. In class, now, you cleverly work Donut Man into the discussion (notice I didn’t say story), and because of this one little thing you have done, the class works.

So, me at least, I wait, wait, and use names as glue in the classroom process, and the kids become more than mere Pablos, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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2 Responses to “Personalization and Names”

  1. Maureen Kelley Says:

    I am an adult education teacher who at first really liked and then became frustrated with TPR, but then stumbled upon TPRS. I found your website last week and began reading the downloads. I feel like a little sponge, I want to soak up as much as I can.

    I have a question.
    Do you think establishing identies/names can work as well in the adult education classroom?

  2. Ben Slavic Says:

    I cannot state emphatically enought – yes. It’s the inner child thing. My work in a community college over the years has taught me this. Adults, so wrapped up in their adult lives, are still, on some level, children. They want so much to play! The challenge, then, becomes accessing that part of your adult student in class.

    Many who are blocked to this process might take longer than others, and if your adult classes are short in weeks, you may never break through. But it is a side that can definitely be reached with adults.

    Saint-Exupéry writes touchingly in the dédicace to Léon Werth in Le Petit Prince on this topic. He says that all adults were once children, but few remember (“peu d’entre eux s’en souviennent”).

    Yes yes yes. If an adult had wrestled in college, and he offered the nickname Nacho Libre on his circling with balls identity card (see PQA in a Wink!), and I sense his pride in having wrestled in college, I ask him to stand up to do a little scene in L2 (not a story – just a ittle scene – we put too much focus on the story in TPRS, in my opinion), don’t you think that he would get into it?

    Reaching adults is only a question of how you do it. How you approach them. We must tame them. Again, I paraphase Saint-Exupéry when he says we must build relationship (taming each other) – it must be done slowly, carefully, by pulling our chair ever so slightly closer, at the same agreed upon hour, to the one we want to tame.

    Taming! Isn’t this what we do in teaching? But not as animals, but instead, with the heart. We tame hearts in TPRS. This is the essence of the method. That is why my teacher Susan Gross unabashedly tells those who can hear that the method is really about discipline and love combined.

    Once you see the smiles appear with adults, when they trust you (when the child in them trusts you) to support their L2 acquistion process, to actually teach them instead of trying to find out what they don’t know, when that trust is there, you will see things in teaching you never could have anticipated.

    But remember, it is how and not so much what on PQA – you must learn both – the science, the mechanics of PQA, and also the art, the knowing when to approach and when to lay back in those first few weeks of the class.

    Ben

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