Yesterday our local CI/TPRS met for the very first time! It was a historic event and I was just tickled pink! We had 6 teachers representing 4 different schools and I’d say we’re off to a great start! I was inspired by the incredible Rita Barrett (whose first CI novel will be published very soon! Stay posted!) and the lovely ladies in Portland whose PLC hosted Comprehensible Cascadia this summer. Rita urged me to get the ball rolling to connect with and support local teachers who are teaching with Comprehensible Input in their classes. If you’re looking for a local CI/TPRS group, check out this list here….if there isn’t one, maybe YOU should put a group together!
Anyway… at our first meeting, we had a pretty wide range of experience, some who have taught CI for years and others who are brand new and just dipping their toes in. I wanted to give them something, something to help them in their classes, something to refer to during their lessons, something to remind them of The. Most. Important. Things. To. Remember when delivering Comprehensible Input to your classes…and there are a lot of things to remember! So I made a list and pondered it and shaved it down and refined it and then consolidated it again and I finally came up with this:
Print it out. Hang it up on bright paper. Use it during class to cue you as you’re doing your thing. Here are the 4 things, with just a bit more detail…
Slow down! Our little darlings need time to sort out what we’ve said and extract the meaning. This takes so much longer than we usually give them. Say a word. Pause. Take a breath. Say another word or two. Point to the word on the board and give them a few seconds to read it’s translation. Then another two words. Go as slow as you can and then challenge yourself to slow down even more. Especially with you level 1s…if you go slow enough and they’re all tracking with you, it is totally magical. If you’re going too fast, it’s just confusion and frustration. If you’re not sure if you’re speaking too fast, film yourself during class. My trouble is that I get excited and I speed up… And I need to be reminded to SLOW the heck down!
Teach to the eyes:
I think it was Susie Gross who coined this phrase which has been woven into the very fabric of CI teacher training. While you’re speaking slowly, watch their eyes! No duh, right!? But it’s so so so important! You will see who’s tracking with you and who’s asleep on a beach in La La Land. You can see the flicker of I don’t have a clue what’s going on! and the gleam of the kid who is totally immersed in the magic of understanding a new language. I think a lot of (other subject) teachers teach to the back of the room. They deliver their lecture without noticing what their little darlings are doing or learning. NOT US! Oh no! We teach students first, then Spanish (or French, Latin, Japanese, or…) second! Watch your kids, watch their body language. Teach to their eyes.
Stay in bounds:
Monitor your language. Think about which words they own and what’s going to be new to them. As you’re talking slowly, and watching their eyes, think about what words need to be defined. At the beginning, nearly everything (except really obvious cognates) will need to be written on the board with their translations. It’s hard to remember they know and keep that straight across different levels…by going slowly and really watching them, you’ll see when you become incomprehensible, when you’ve gone “out of bounds” by using unfamiliar words.
How do you know if you’re being comprehensible, if they’re understanding the language you’re feeding them? The easiest way is to ask them! CI teachers ask questions all day long and CI teachers know know that how students answer is as important as what they answer! When kids answer questions right away, without any hesitation at all, we know that they’re internalizing the language. When there is that painstakingly long pause before an answer it means they didn’t understand the question. Which means they likely didn’t understand the language leading up to it….which means you need to slow down, look them in the eyes and get back into bounds by defining some words on the board. (Isn’t it cool how all of these are related!)
Asking for a translation is another option. It’s the easiest and quickest way to know if they’re understanding you. If you and your students share a common L1, use it to gauge their comprehension. Sometimes I’ll ask the whole class for a translation. Sometimes I’ll call on students with my magic cards. Other times I’ll ask them to tell their partner what I just said (and I’ll conveniently stand by a pair that I want to overhear). If they’re not understanding us, then we’re all wasting out time, so stop and ask them, frequently!