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:

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Pimsleur: How Much Input?

Preparation for a road trip down to New Orleans only meant one thing: 5 Pimsleur language learning courses checked out from our local library! To be clear, Pimsleur courses are not effective in the long run, but there’s input nonetheless. Still, how much input is there…really?

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Can-Do Statements vs. Objectives vs. Agendas

Here’s some clarification on related ideas that are often confused:

Can-Do Statements
“Can-Do Statements describe what learners can do consistently over time.” (p. 4)
Don’t use these as your daily objectives. Students can’t meet them after a class hour. If they can, you’ve written them wrong.

Objectives
“Students will be able to X.”
Don’t spend time on these. These are particular goals for the day, but are largely a fake school thing that have almost no effect on learning, and zero on acquisition (especially if the point is to create a more implicit environment free of metacognicide). Post them if you have to, but use a Google Doc or something (vs. spending any amount of time whatsoever writing on the board). Better yet, use one that could apply to any class (e.g. “Students will understand new words used to discuss [target culture idea].” If someone tries to give you the Wiggins & McTighe “understand is not a good/measurable objective,” just say something in the target language they don’t understand, and draw attention to that). The only people who care about objectives are teachers who buy into skill-building, or teachers who prefer to teach language itself as content matter, as well as administrators who have been told that their teachers need objectives, but not students (see below). If you’re in a real bind, use Terry Waltz’ random objective generator.

Agenda
“MovieTalk, Team Game, Survey, Quiz, etc.”
The day’s agenda is pretty much all that matters to students. It answers the question “what are we doing today?” and not “what skills will I develop as a result of your planning today’s lesson, o teacher mine?”

Teachers spend far too much time writing Can-Dos and Objectives when just a solid Agenda is needed. This allows maximum flexibility, and affords time to develop strategies to provide CI, as well as writing/adapting texts for the novice—the real high-leverage classroom practices. I’ve been implementing this in the daily & weekly schedule used in the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC).

 

post scriptum – Objective Traps
Cavē! The tendency to be satisfied—proud, even—with “students being able to X” on any given day has disastrous effects. If the skill or content is isolated, the day’s “mastery” means almost nothing in the long run. Take, for example, the K-12+ Spanish student in highly interactive, yet student-student focused classes (i.e. forced speech paired activities). Despite any success, or meeting of those daily objectives, she might later study abroad in Spain only to find out that she has limited communicative ability, and must undergo a silent period. How did all this—from an A+ student—go unaddressed? It’s simple; all those activities designed to meet objectives gave teachers the wrong impression from the wrong data! Furthermore, teachers tend to USE data like this as evidence when discussing best practices. Don’t fall into that trap!

Balance

Few teachers manage to have balance in their lives. The best teachers definitely do. Why? They make time for it.

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Most teachers haven’t streamlined their grading, assessment, and planning practices enough to leave school at school, instead bringing school home with them, possibly forgoing other interests. There’s no time for anything else beyond necessary errands and family needs. That’s a sure path towards burnout. It’s good to balance teaching and, well, not teaching…anything other than teaching, in fact. For me, it’s drumming.

So, Magister P is taking a break today. Hi, my name is Lance, and I’m going to show you how I just put together a “quiet kit” apartment drumset. Why? Well, when your normal drumset looks like this, neighbors aren’t going to be happy…

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Sample CI Schedule: The Week & The Day

**Use this schedule with the Universal Language Curriculum (ULC) Updated 2.4.18**

Shifting one’s practice towards providing more input can feel like it’s a daunting task. All of a sudden, certain routines and practices don’t seem to make much sense, especially after looking at how few messages in the target language there might have been on a daily basis! The big picture of what a CI year looks like should be liberating and alleviate concern. Still, there are questions about what happens daily throughout the week…

The Week
– Telling/Asking stories, then reading them
– Learning details about students
– 1-3 unannounced “open-book” Quick Quizzes

The Day
– Routines
– Reading
– Students
– Stories
Write & Discuss! (Added 3.10.18)

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Ideas Without Labels: A Discussion Framework

It was John Bracey who reminded me that if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. It was very clear a few years ago when Story Listening wasn’t as popular, and Ben Slavic had yet to write his Big CI Book, let alone create The Invisibles with Tina Hargaden. TPRS wasn’t even promoting its version of MovieTalk, which is now standard practice in its workshops as the easier gateway to story asking. These all have positively contributed in some way to those teaching in comprehension-based communicative classrooms—don’t get me wrong—but the culmination has also made communicating ideas about CI more complicated. For example, the Teacher’s Discovery magazine has begun selling products branded with “CI,” regardless of actual comprehensibility, let alone amount of input, and some methods mention CI while simultaneously drawing from older methods shown to be ineffective (i.e. Audio-Lingual), and aligning practices with the latest publications from the research-lacking ACTFL. This isn’t a jab at ACTFL, it’s just the reality that most of what they promote is determined by committees, not actual research.

There were fewer teachers interested in CI, too, which meant that there were fewer opinions. In a way, it was almost easier beforehand to be dismissed by most colleagues than it has been lately, falling into debate after debate over what used to be quite simple. Professional groups have also migrated to Facebook, a more active platform. Instead of ignoring messages from a single list-serve daily digest email, folks have been receiving notification after notification on their phones, and responding promptly. There doesn’t seem to be as much time as there used to be to absorb ideas, formulate thoughts, and respond accordingly. For example, while my principles about what language is have been refined since the release of Tea with BVP in October of 2015, many teachers are just now discovering that resource, some of whom have been responding on Facebook with their ideas that haven’t had much influence since the 70’s. It’s becoming difficult to communicate ideas about CI clearly.

So, there are a lot of voices now, which is great, but just not that much support, which is not great, and not as much clarity, which is really not great at all. Many ideas I observe being discussed share no guiding principles, yet teachers go back and forth as if they’re the same thing. Most ideas aren’t, or there’s a crucial difference that one or all parties don’t see. There might be a way to move forward together…

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Teaching Grammar without the Grammar-Translation Method

Among the many misconceptions about CI, such as some mission against the Classics, “not teaching grammar while providing CI” is probably the most-cited, yet misinterpretissimus of misconceptions.

We teach grammar, oooooooh do we, although mostly in the context of complete Latin messages since even words/phrases contain grammatical information. There’s even explicit instruction, too, though brief student-initiated pop-up grammar explanations (e.g. “Mr. P, why does that word end with nt and not t?”) comprise most of this in a comprehension-based communicative classroom.

Still, even after all that, we do give explicit instruction when students are ready, usually in years 3 or 4. That’s right—even CI-advocating teachers explicitly teach grammar, and they do so using a host of methods and method-free strategies—all grammar-translation alternatives.

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