CI Sects

If conventional language teaching is grammar-translation, then we’re all somewhat a group of heretics! Still, there are so many sub groups of CI that it warrants a bit of elucidation. At some point, John Bracey and I were talking about if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. Here are descriptions of all the different CI groups I’ve observed over the past 5 years already in existence, or just emerging:

The Grammar Group
This is not CI.

This group uses a variety of strategies to make language more comprehensible. Rather than using a particular method exclusively, or teaching according to an existing method at all, this group chooses practices aligned with their own principles of language acquisition, and the nature of language.

This group tends to misinterpret the term, often thinking it means “get students speaking.” When used correctly, however, this group establishes a purpose for listening to and reading the target language (instead of “use at least 3 past participles in your writing/presentation” etc.).

The Skill-Building Group
This group believes that practicing listening, reading, writing (not CI), and speaking (not CI), leads to language acquisition. This group is often associated with eclecticism, and uses methods and strategies that touch upon each of the classic 4 skills using different—yet competing/conflicting—methods.

CI Teachers
This group, also using the term “TCI,” could refer to any other group, or any combination of groups listed here, with teachers aware of—or unaware of—whether they actually provide CI or not.

Many-Toolboxed Teachers
This group uses a variety of strategies, or parts of different strategies, but in a way that might fall under eclecticism. Eclecticism could be bad, with teachers possibly using the least effective parts of different methods and strategies. When the strategies used are informed by principles, however, this group is more-accurately Comprehension-Based, and the expression “many tools in the toolbox” merely emphasizes variety.

This group means well, but contributes to the misunderstanding that all CI is TPRS, or that TPRS is the only way to provide CI. On the contrary; CI is a thing, and TPRS is a method of providing that thing.

This group uses TPRS, the popular collaborative storytelling method, exclusively.

Invisibles/One Word Image (OWI)
This group engages in collaborative storytelling primarily through neutral imaginary characters developed in class. It can include those in the TPRS-Hostile, or Post-TPRS group, but OWI isn’t restricted to that group.

Story Listening
This group uses Story Listening, which itself is a practice to be used exclusively.

Storytelling While Drawing
This group either tells stories while drawing as ONE of their methods, or strategies to provide CI—or—this group thinks it’s doing Story Listening (but isn’t because SL isn’t combined with any other method, or strategy).

This group uses various methods, such as OWL, and other strategies to provide input while remaining in the target language at all costs—one of those costs possibly being comprehension. In this group, the extent to which input is comprehensible varies.

This group avoids TPRS for reasons most associated with a negative experience, such as a bad “in-service” session back in the 90s (i.e. before massive restructuring and adaptation took place). Perhaps the most common negative experience, however, is just being uncomfortable asking a story (i.e. raising one’s own affective filter).

TPRS-Hostile, or Post-TPRS
This group has stronger negative feelings towards TPRS, especially those based on social-emotional factors (e.g. notorious stories promoting celebrity worship, or sensitive body image vocab, etc.). A simple solution would be to not ask those kinds of stories, but this group prefers to distance itself from TPRS altogether, often viewing TPRS as a colonizer of other CI strategies, such as MovieTalk, PictureTalk, etc. Note how this could be the result of the “CI/TPRS” group misusing those terms, thus creating TPRS-Hostiles. It’s also interesting to note the opposite phenomenon, in how TPRS practitioners aren’t at all upset by teachers using the proprietary TPRS “circling” strategy even if not using TPRS.

This group uses massed reps of language to increase exposure in the moment. When misinterpreted, this group confuses the process of massed reps with the process of teaching language explicitly to be learned—the expected result being that students learn/acquire whatever is presented and repeated. This, however, is not necessarily the case.

This group uses spaced reps of language to increase exposure over time. As a divisive move, this group is associated with TPRS-Hostile, or Post-TPRS, citing “non-targeted CI” as an better alternative. As a practice, however, this could be used by any group, including TPRS (e.g. any high frequency words recycled throughout the year are spaced reps, thus, non-targeted).

This group tends to buy into repackaging of old ideas, using ACTFL-created/aligned documents to inform and document practices, often spending a lot of time playing into the “school game” without much change from conventional language teaching. However, actual teaching for this group might fall short of providing CI, even though learning objectives are clearly stated, and boxes are checked.

Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA), or Authentic Text Group
One more (thanks, Bess!). This group could be an extension of Performance-Oriented. In this group, unadapted texts (i.e. “authentic” texts created “by members of a language and culture group for members of the same language and culture group, though most of the time above the appropriate level of the student) are used on their own, or as part of the structured IPA format as promoted by ACTFL. The extent to which this group provides CI is questionable, knowing that the unadapted texts used during the IPA will not be fully-comprehended.

This group wants to provide more CI, but feels pressure, either externally from required curricula, etc., or internally manifesting itself as a struggle to teach in a different way. Many hybrid teachers fall back on what’s comfortable, or never end up reaching a place of autonomy to let go of the physical, or metaphorical textbook.


6 thoughts on “CI Sects

  1. Very lucid and the descriptions seem rather accurate. I regret the use of the word “sects” which implies a certain fanaticism. Personally, as long as teachers understand and respect the principle of Comprehensible Input, they can share and collaborate on perfecting the many different strategies for delivering highly comprehensible input.

    • “Sect” pokes fun at the heresy, though, right? We are all heretics despite some wildly different views. We’re still more on the same side than we’re not.

  2. You forgot IPA people, who claim to be offering comprehensible input despite the fact that they are forcing authentic resources on novice learners, with the full understanding that they will understand very little of what they are reading/hearing.

    • Exactly! For what it’s worth, Comprehension-Based teaching is the safest, likely most-effective. As long as you focus on making languae comprehensible, you won’t have to throw out what it is you know entirely, though you’ll find that much of it is lacking in terms of CI.

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