No Proficiency, No Problem: How CI allowed me to teach Spanish

At the end of November, I was hired to teach a new 7th grade Exploratory Language program. This was the administration’s solution to a failed compulsory extension of their 8th Spanish program that was halted in October by the abrupt resignation of their teacher. I wasn’t certified to teach Spanish, so the workaround was to reestablish 7th grade Spanish as a 7th grade Exploratory Language, and offer Spanish, Latin (for which I DO hold certification, and actually know), and French.

When I accepted the position, I knew very little Spanish, and French wasn’t even on the map. I was willing to invest the time needed to teach them, though, and I had a secret weapon…my CI language training. The administration recognized such value, and I was on my way.

You might be wondering how I was able to teach a language I didn’t know. It turns out that in addition to pedagogical training, all you need is to hear and read *enough* understandable messages (= CI) in order to acquire *enough* language so that you can teach it. It’s a communicative equivalent of “one chapter ahead of the students,” only I found that when the focus is on comprehension, the pace is slow enough to be a lot further ahead. So, I asked my wife to speak Spanish to me whenever possible, and I read a handful of Blaine Ray and TPRS Publishing novels. I began reading public signs in both languages (sometimes ignoring the English altogether), and selecting Spanish as the language at the grocery store self-checkout. The only speaking I did was to my students, and that was in a very optimized way. Clearly, a more proficient speaker would be in a position to deliver more input, but at least for my 7th grade students, we didn’t come CLOSE to hitting my own proficiency level. I was well-prepared for this.

Below are my results from what I’ve estimated to be ~10-20 hours of CI over 32 school days of instruction. In a typical comprehension-based program, the lower number usually accounts for a Total Physical Response (TPR) phase before moving onto stories. Why so few CI hours? There were massive behavior problems, the students had an entire month of study hall, and I was the third adult in front of them…there’s not much more to say about that. In a way, it’s amazing that students picked up any Spanish at all. You can be the judge of that from these timed writes using my Fluency Write paper.

The first timed writes you see were retells of class stories, but the final ones were all original ideas. These were unannounced 5min timed writes, and no notes were used. The only thing students might have used were Question Posters in the classroom. Remember, my own Proficiency Level is probably Novice High. There’s no way I could’ve seen this kind of spontaneous/authentic student writing doing anything other than teaching with CI. Also note that the first timed writes reflect ~20 hours of traditional language teaching from their first Spanish teacher, and ~1 hour of CI with me. At this point, there should be no case for teachers ignoring the effectiveness of teaching with CI if I, a Latin teacher, can get these results from delivering ~20 hours of CI Spanish.

1) Madagascar Chicken:
This is clearly a fast processor, but note the  absence of any verb whatsoever on the first retell. The final product, though, definitely shows that the student now has a good handle on “has,” and the word count was pretty high at 72 words.

SKM_654e16020809470_0005SKM_654e16020809470_00062) La Chica:
Why have I included this? There will always be kids who just don’t give a hoot. This is what that looks like. This student copied words from posters from around the room for the final story, and is representative of what I saw, daily, from this particular student.

SKM_654e16020812220_0005SKM_654e16020812220_00073) The girl had no man:
This one shows excellent growth.SKM_654e16020812220_0001SKM_654e16020812220_00024) Bernie Sanders
My kids loved bringing Bernie and Donnie into our stories. You can tell from the final product that I focused on the Super 7 Verbs (there is, is in/at, is, likes, has, wants, goes) with these students.

SKM_654e16020812220_0003SKM_654e16020812220_00045) Sushi
This was a fast processor in one of the more well-behaved classes, so we’re talking closer to ~20 hours of CI, which probably accounts for the high word count.SKM_654e16020812260_0001SKM_654e16020812260_0003SKM_654e16020812260_0004
6) Pizza Hut
The first retell makes no sense, even for someone sympathetic to language learners. This student also just copied question words from around the room. The final product is modest in length, but the clarity in expression is undisputed. Sometimes a high word count isn’t needed to show growth.


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