The longer I teach, the more I pull back the curtain, becoming more transparent with students in the room, and better-aligning my practices with core principles. An understanding of communicative purpose has really helped me eliminate some of the charades you tend to see everywhere. For example, what once began as reading textbook passages designed to teach a specific grammar point has now become me outright saying “today, we’re gonna learn about some grammar” (i.e. learning). No veil. Texts are now read for enjoyment (i.e. entertainment), or learning about the target culture (i.e. learning). Any collaborative storytelling or Write & Discuss (Type & Talk) results in texts (i.e. creating), though the process is often enjoyable (i.e. entertainment), and focuses on some topic (i.e. learning). Those three classroom communicative purposes: entertainment, learning, and creating, have all led to great buy-in and trust. The longer I teach, there’s just no need for any of the role-play and ruse within the classroom reality.
Well, it’s that time of the year when I get ideas on what to improve upon or do differently next fall. In particular, I’ve got my eye on a couple new transparent routines that are best established right from the start…
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.
After writing about the first weeks of routines, it’s clear that Total Physical Response (TPR) is now only effective as a brain break. After all, moving about and gesturing isn’t as compelling now that we can hold actual class discussions. When it comes to compelling topics, though, Discipulus Illustris is taking off with zodiac qualities right now in first place in terms of holding interest. As such, I’ve updated the 2019-20 PPT with links to two qualities for each sign:
The follow up question is something like “do you have similar, or different qualities?” This has been awesome. Otherwise, next week introduces MovieTalk, and new Card Talk prompts beyond the four like/like to do drawings we got from the very first class. Talk about a lot of mileage out of that one; it’s been 4 weeks! With these new daily routines comes new planning needs and changes. One change is reading the Tuesday/Thursday Write & Discuss as a whole class (instead of a Do Now). Also, the second half of class on Wednesday/Friday will be devoted to reading; independently, as a whole-class, and then in pairs/groups. Here’s the updated schedule for the next 4-5 weeks, and Do Now/Daily Prep below that:
Mondays: Do Now – Draw what you did/something you saw over the weekend Prep – Determine Tuesday’s Do Now drawing prompt
Tuesdays: Do Now – [Drawing prompt] Prep – 1) Wednesday’s MovieTalk screenshot 2) Type up text based on Do Now drawings, for Thursday
Wednesdays: Do Now – See|Think|Wonder (screenshot)
Thursdays: Do Now – In 1-2 sentences, summarize text (from Tuesday’s drawings) Prep – Determine Friday’s Card Talk prompt
Fridays: Do Now – [Card Talk prompt] Prep – Type up & print text based on Card Talk
For all my tips, tricks, and sneaky systems, I do a LOT of scripting and detailed planning the first weeks of school in order to feel prepared. Last year, I wrote about “annual amnesia,” and this year is no different. Granted, I’m reaaaaally on top of certain things, like creating a giant colored-coded poster with class END times near the clock to reference while teaching, and other odds ‘n ends. But then there’s Monday…
“What the HELL am I actually going to DO in class?!”
OK OK, it’s not that bad. However, I did need to set aside time to think things through, all outlined in this post…
At iFLT 2019, Grant Boulanger paused to have had students close their eyes and spell a word in the air, syllable-by-syllable as he repeated it slowly. Students opened their eyes, and Grant wrote the word on the board, and continued with class.
Quite simply, this gets students to focus on listening, which Grant mentioned is important since most of what goes on in school makes use of other senses. Also, once the word is written on the board, any “mistakes” literally disappear into thin air. It’s like a fleeting dictātiō!
Consider using air spelling before establishing meaning of a new word/phrase when the class flow could use a short break from the input. In fact, this strategy is part of what I’ve been thinking of as Communication Breaks. These breaks pause or reduce input, allowing students either to think, or briefly interact in ways that lack a communicative purpose. Between these breaks and Brain Breaks, class should be over before students even know it!
For years, my go-to teacher eval goal has been for students to increase their timed write word counts by X% (like 20%, which always happens), which includes selecting one or two practices to improve that allow CI to be provided, and contribute to the goal (e.g. establishing rules & routines, consistently using brain breaks, writing more embedded readings, etc.). In my experience, it’s not necessarily the results that lead to good evaluations, it’s how everything is analyzed. That is, a thorough analysis is more important than every student meeting the eval goal. Thus, this post. Hey Principal HD, #shoutout!
I’ve seen pictures of brain breaks & bursts written on Popsicle sticks for students to draw at random. This, or some other system of randomly selecting one, is an excellent idea…
At a certain point, we don’t ever need to plan a break/burst, or specify what kind on our agenda. How? It’s simple. Once a brain break makes its way into the rotation, write it on a stick, or tiny piece of paper to put in a hat (or drum, Corinthian helmet, etc.). When students begin to lose steam, have someone choose the next break, or burst. That’s it. This especially helps for brain bursts when I’m not feeling creative in the moment. In fact, why not do the same for all TPR, pre-writing funny chain commands ready-to-go? You could also use separate hats/drums/helmets for the bursts (e.g. the one pictured that lasts just seconds), and other breaks that might take longer (e.g. draw/color for 2 minutes).
Recently, I took inventory of my breaks & bursts, making note of the ones I no longer use at the end of the list. Some of those were helpful when I first began comprehension-based communicative language teaching (CCLT), and couldn’t really sustain an hour-long class in the target language. Others just weren’t that fun. However, give them a try and see how they work in your context.
In its debut year, Comprehensible Online offered a different kind of PD, allowing participants to watch as many presentations over three weeks as they could from their computers and phones. #pdinpajamas was trending for many teachers sneaking in loads of PD from the comfort of their own home. In fact, I was able to watch most videos during my part-time job (shhh)!
Like other conference takeaways, I’ll consult this post over the years, and the info will be here to share with all. I have a code system to help me spot new things to try, and others to update. High-leverage strategies I consider “non-negotiable” for my own teaching are “NN.” Strategies to update or re-implement are “Update!,” and those I’d like to try for the first time are “New!” I encourage you to give them all a try. Here are the takeaways from some of the presentations I got to, organized by presenter:
While Card Talk (formerly Circling with Balls) is great for establishing MGMT expectations by having students literally play ball on the first day of school, don’t forget about it the rest of the year! Write/project a prompt (as bell ringer/Do Now?), then talk about what students drew on their cards. This is no-prep, which sounds like juuuuuuuust the right thing to begin class once back from the holiday break, especially to reinforce class routines after being away for a bit. Aside from my new Brain Bursts, this is what I’ll do tomorrow, and it might even last the entire class!
Given the nature of holidays, instead of making things difficult for the less-privileged, or assuming who celebrates what, I’ll keep mine to a simple and global prompt:
Quid bonum erat? (What was good?)
Oh, and the student who draws nihil (nothing) actually helps us out. The “nothing” response makes it all the easier to launch into some non-examples, either/or questions, and Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA) comparisons, as well as “I don’t believe you” and “liar” rejoinders that are instant hits that extend the conversation every time!
Teachers fall into a routine, often focusing on a particular strategy for a while because a) they want to hone their skill, b) it’s magically engaging for students, or c) both. During that period of focus, however, other teaching practices tend to get left behind. The holiday break is good time to take a look at what has NOT been going on in the classroom. For me, it’s been Brain Breaks. Annabelle Allen would be ashamed of me!
It’s true, though. Looking back to just before the holiday break, I’ve been doing just one Brain Break, and there were even days when I did zero due to an activity involving somemovement. There’s no excuse for neglecting Brain Breaks, though, and there’s no rationale behind substituting them with other activities. I need to get back on this horse…