I got thinking about what I’d say my core practices were if anyone wanted to learn more about CI and get an overview of what comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) looks like. Would it be a list of 10? Could I get that down to five? Might it be better to prioritize some practices like the top 5, 8, and 16 verbs (i.e. quaint quīnque, awesome octō, and sweet sēdecim)? Would I go specific, with concrete activities? Or, would I go broad and global, starting with principles and ideas?
I highly recommend that you do this just as an exercise during a planning period this week, making a quick list of your core practices. Doing so required me to sort out a few things in the process, and helped organize and align my practices to certain principles. Of course, terms and definitions can get tricky, here. I just saw that Reed Riggs and Diane Neubauer refer to “instructional activities (IA),” which covers a lot of what goes on in the classroom. It’s a good term. I’m using “practices” in a similar way to refer to many different methods, strategies, techniques, and activities that all fall under a CCLT approach, as well as general “teacher stuff” I find to be core as well.
Another reason for this post is that I’ve seen the “CI umbrella” graphic shared before, but that doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of things. Rather than practices falling under a CI umbrella, I envision CI instead as the result of practices under the umbrella of CCLT. I also consider such an approach a defense against incomprehensibility—the first obstacle that needs to be removed—and I thought a more aggressive graphic of a “CI shield” might best represent that.
Here’s the first line of core practice defense:
Quaint Quīnque Core Practices
Comprehension is step zero and thus, the corest, most-core core practice of them all. I prefer to do this by writing the target language (TL/L2) and its English/Native(L1) while pointing and pausing so learners can make a form-meaning connection. Pictures help strengthen the form-meaning connection whenever possible. Do you establish meaning another way?
In certain contexts, we must trust that the learner is understanding, such as time outside of class and during independent reading. For every other context, though, a core practice is to check for understanding. I prefer to do this in English/Native(L1) asking questions directly (e.g. “what does X mean?”), having students complete quick annotation tasks while reading, chorally translating, and monitoring paired reading activities like Silent Volleyball Reading. Do you check comprehension in different ways?
Shelter Vocabulary & Unshelter Grammar
The more a learner encounters a word in different contexts, the higher the likelihood all of its acquired. Therefore, repetition is a core practice. As the number of words increases, though, repetition is less likely to occur. I prefer to ask many questions, rephrase them both in their simplest and a more complex form, often employ Circling, recast any English/Native(L1) responses in the target language (TL/L2), restate anything and everything that’s stated, reuse ideas by breaking up sentences into smaller parts, and recycle words as often as possible. Since all words contain grammar, using as many forms of words as possible exposes learners to the structure of the language without adding too many individual meanings. I prefer to compare multiple student responses (i.e. singular, plural), use different perspectives (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd person), and tell stories in various timeframes (e.g. story is past tense with dialogue in the present tense). Do you limit vocabulary and not grammar in other ways?
Humans communicate for a handful of reasons, and only a few of them apply to the classroom context. I prefer to plan activities that fall under entertainment, learning, and creating, and to be transparent about the day’s agenda. For example, when the purpose is learning something about target culture, there’s no pressure to entertain students, nor should they expect such on that day. Furthermore, when the communicative purpose drives planning, anything and everything could become class content. The next step is choosing an activity or two, and being ready for compelling diversions that allow you to create, learn, or be entertained as a class. Do you determine class content another way?
New texts are important, both to hold attention and keep up momentum, and to support the acquisition of words found in new contexts (not just memorized phrases used in limited ones). I prefer to end most classes by co-creating a text reflecting whatever happened, which varies by activity (e.g. class story, discussion movie, etc.) via Write & Discuss (Type & Talk). I also prefer to get new texts from collaborative storytelling without any acting, often using very simple story scripts and starters and Story Cubes as guides. Do you get new texts in different ways?
Awesome Octō Core Practices (+3)
For texts, I prefer looking at the target language(TL/L2), reading it with students, and connecting it to English/Native(L1) words, phrases, and sentences, getting as close to 100% comprehension as possible. For real-time processing of what I say, I prefer to speak slowly, and place short pauses after key phrases. Do you help students process language in other ways?
Unless all texts are new and level-appropriate, simplifying existing texts is certainly a core practice. I prefer to do this by creating tiered versions, Embedded Readings (ER) that withhold tantalizing details whenever possible, and replacing vocabulary with synonyms and cognates (i.e. words that look/sound like a word in a known language and have the same meaning in both). The novice holds onto cognates to derive meaning. This is a process so unavoidable there’s a term for a kind of interference the novice experiences, known as encountering “false cognates” (i.e. if learners didn’t jump at assuming meanings, cognates wouldn’t play as great a role). Since the target language I teach has many cognates, it’s a core practice for me to prioritize them over other words, even if a native writer would use less-familiar words in idiomatic phrases. Do you adapt texts differently?
It might seem like a given at this point, but cannot be understated. Independent reading allows the learner to receive input at their own pace, and their own level when many reading options are available. This is such a core practice that I build independent reading time into every class, even on the first day, and even as short as one minute. This practice develops into two-three days a week for 15-20minutes of Free Voluntary Reading (FVR). I prefer to have a large physical class library, and daily reading expectations outside of class using a digital library of co-created, new texts as well. Do you promote reading in another way?
Sweet Sēdecim Core Practices (+8)
Using multimedia is a core practice of mine. I prefer to use pictures (i.e. PictureTalk) when learning about target culture, audio whenever it accompanies novellas, and animated videos for telling stories before reading a version of them (i.e. MovieTalk). Do you use multimedia in other ways?
Community & Trust
It doesn’t matter how comprehensible we make the target language if students aren’t in a safe space, or if they feel they’re not seen/heard. It’s a core practice. Special Person, or Discipulus Illustris, has been the cornerstone activity for building community and trust in the first months. It undergoes a revival when students suggest questions to be added and asked of their classmates mid-year, and then gets a breath of new life when I survey teachers for a “guess the teacher” variation in the spring. Do you build community and trust differently?
Related to building community and trust is creating connections. I consider class passwords to be a core practice for this. Not only can they be used to physically get target language sounds out of students’ mouths in a low-stakes way, but the practice ensures that I greet students at the door, every class. Do you create connections another way?
Related to building community, team games do so much for improving the class experience. They’re fun, falling under the “entertainment” communicative purpose for sure. When kids can have fun—and it’s not random or pointless—time flies, and they leave class not-bored to possibly enjoying. Not every class can be a homerun like this, but consistent time devoted to games pays off. I prefer Digital Pop-up, Lucky Reading Game, Word Races, The Septem (a.k.a. Sēx) Game, and Game of Quotes. Do you have fun differently?
Though defined in many ways, this core practice boils down to understanding what the learner is experiencing, or at least trying to understand, and then adjusting practices accordingly. I prefer to keep an eye on time vs. amount of target language and respond with brain breaks, bursts, boosts, and other ways to reduce the cognitive load, as well as be aware of other responsibilities students might have, both in and out of school, and how that might impact their classroom experience. Do you care for a student’s well-being differently?
Measuring growth is often connected to teacher evaluation systems, and is generally an expectation of school. I prefer to not overthink this, using number of words written on timed writes to show growth. Do you measure student growth another way?
Low-Prep & No-Prep
I debated prioritizing some practices like this much higher up at the Quaint Quīnque level. I have a suspicion that it’s precisely *because* of these housekeeping practices that I’m able to implement the second language-specific ones. For all the wrenches thrown our way, and the reality that about 25% of teaching weeks don’t follow the schedule, I prefer to plan just a class or two in advance. Do you plan another way?
Same as above, my grading system focuses on the sine qua non of what students need to do to acquire languages—what they do to receive input—and doesn’t matter one bit how performance factors into things (re: internal syllabus). In my experience, the kind of results teachers often grade do follow even if those results aren’t counted at all. So, I skip ’em. I prefer to do as little grading as possible, and hardly ever give quizzes, mostly reporting reading and notebook work as weekly completion scores in the gradebook, and having students grade themselves for the quarter. Do you grade differently?