Yes, CI Posse refers to a bunch of people who support each other with energy and ideas for ecstatic language teaching. But the word posse also means "to be able," and the name CI Posse draws on that: It's a declaration that we can do this and that you can do this. In fact, this work is so doable that you can get started anytime, and doing so just might make your life easier and more enjoyable.
By "do CI," we just mean creating a comfortable environment rich in language that learners understand and want more of. "Oh, is that all?" Actually, it's more doable than you might think, and that's what this post is about. Creating a CI-rich environment is highly doable because it comes down to two things:
1. a set of breakdownable, learnable, practiceable skills
2. acting human
I may have made up one or more of the words in point 1.
When you watch a master teacher, it's easy to suspect wizardry. But even wizardry has its building blocks. The building blocks of teaching with CI are discrete skills like speaking slowly and comprehensibly, pointing-and-pausing at words on the board to give students time to process, checking for comprehension, asking strategic questions, defining expectations for participation, and following up on students' interests and opinions.
You can find guidance on these skills, and videos of people employing them, all over the CI-happy interwebs, including at the bottom of this post. You don't need to implement the skills all at once. Pick one to focus on for a while and cut yourself slack for the rest!
Because acquiring and using language is a natural part of being human, watching a class "do CI" can look a lot like, well, just watching good humans being good humans.
Can you listen with interest? Then you can do CI.
Can you ask basic questions about things you want to know or think students might want to know? Then you can do CI.
Can something you learn about someone make you want to ask a follow-up question? Then you can do CI.
Can you use your imagination? Then you can do CI.
This may seem wishy-washy, but it doesn't have to be. While free-for-all conversation can help someone acquire a language efficiently if the total vocabulary isn’t too much and learners are actually attending to what is said, there are lots of concrete, step-by-step, practiceable frameworks for generating target language input and interaction. There is TPRS, invented by Blaine Ray. There is the Invisibles process from Ben Slavic and Tina Hargaden. There is La Persona Especial, refined for the language classroom by Bryce Hedstrom. There is Eric Herman’s Story Card Magic. There is Free Voluntary Reading, which doesn’t have to lead to interaction with a teacher; it can simply provide tons of desirable input. There is Embedded Reading, developed by Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley, which can be supplemented with lots of CI-extending tasks. There is talking about pictures, students' quirky skills, random items, or even just what's outside the window.
However you structure your CI-rich environment, I recommend getting some formal training and coaching in TPRS, simply because that's a great way to focus on and practice a lot of the bite-size skills that make a target-language interaction effective. But you don't have to wait for formal training to get started. Try one of the routines or frameworks linked above, or just ask students an interesting question--"What's something you're good at?" "What's a place you would love to visit?" "Have you ever been bitten by an animal?" -get an answer from a student or two, and see where the conversation leads, remembering to keep things slower than you might think necessary.
Trying something new in the middle of a long semester can be daunting, but you might actually find that it's really energizing. In the last post, Ben Fisher talked about how this has been the case for him, and I've been writing about the energizing power of novelty as part of a series of ideas for boosting peace and energy in a stressful stretch of school.
And remember that you've got a posse to back you up!
PS. Here is a little video of me with a mixed-age group of Latin beginners at Express Fluency 2017. I hope it features both some of the skills and some of the humanness mentioned in this post. If the video by itself doesn't click for you, you can check out this background info and breakdown of the individual skills involved.
- Justin Slocum Bailey
I graduated my teacher training program at the end of 2016, and started looking for my first job as a world language teacher in the spring and summer of 2017. I was so excited - I thought I had done very well in my student teaching and was on my way to having an exhausting, but productive first year!
I got a call from a middle school in a Seattle suburb, and one awesome Skype interview later, I was a real teacher! Finally - all my years of experience in working with children were going to put me in a position to inspire and educate our youth! Bam!
Well, the nerves crept in. The position was a Spanish teaching position and I had majored in...German. And done a summer travel-study program in Germany. And been the president of the German Club. And lived in Germany for a year as an English Teaching Assistant. I had been to a Spanish-speaking country for a total of...six days. And though I had minored in Spanish in college...I was the German guy. Ok - I can do this! I am a creative, hard-working individual. There are MANY resources out there for Spanish teachers, more than for German, for sure! If I flop, it’ll really be my own fault!
The first day is a blur now, but I remember my first class coming and wondering, “will I be able to speak to them in Spanish the whole time slash at all?” (I did it, phew. What did I even talk about? I can’t recall.) The students went home and there I was, alone in a little room that was now dubbed “mine,” with little idea of what to do next. Okay...I’ll just follow what the textbook thinks comes next! And try to throw in some of those fun, interactive activities I learned about in my program! And browse Pinterest for MORE new ideas!
There are so many ideas out there. Blogs, Pinterest boards, well-meaning colleagues, negative colleagues, district coordinators, other teachers who don’t even teach language who took a language class one time twenty years ago, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, books, instructional video series, YouTube...there are just a million ways to do any one thing. Teach a language? Goodness gracious. Not to mention, if you shop on Teachers Pay Teachers, everyone else’s materials are BEAUTIFUL and look like they were hand-crafted in a giant, beautiful library by angels and the ghost of Socrates.
Before I started teaching, I thought to myself, “I’ll never show a movie in class as a stalling technique! I want to be up there, teaching, every day! No cop outs!” But the heads going down onto desks, the figuring out differentiation for six classes a day, the four preps, the days where I spent 12+ hours at the school looking for materials online, the wondering if it was fair or right for me to be a Spanish teacher when I felt I knew so relatively little….it all began to wear on me. The beginning of November seemed like the perfect time to drag out The Book of Life over a couple days...in all my classes. I thought to myself...is this it? Is this all there is?
A conference presenter turned me on to the CI Liftoff Facebook page, and through it, I started learning a lot about how teachers were delivering comprehensible input in their classrooms, every day! What? My level 1 students only know some weather phrases (sometimes...well, some of them), some greetings, the numbers (sometimes), me gusta phrases...how do these language magic witch people just make these kids understand day in, day out, without planning every single word? Devilry, I say!
So I read some more, watched YouTube videos of teachers working their classes like Vegas MCs, took tons of notes, thought aloud with wild enthusiasm (usually to myself), until one day I said, okay! This is it! LET’S DO THIS!
Again, I don’t know what exactly I even talked about the day I “decided to go CI,” but I knew there was a hunger there. I could not, would not stop. And, magically, I started learning things about my students that made me feel like I was connected to them, and actually knew their lives.
And it reminded me: though I had not lived in a Spanish-dominant country, I had learned my Spanish and practiced it in a country with a huge population of Spanish speakers. To me, learning Spanish represented building closer relationships with my Spanish-speaking neighbors, colleagues, strangers I ran into when they needed help, when I needed help. It was about speaking to the hearts of people in my community. And that connection was sparked again when I started to speak slowly and comprehensibly to my students, making their lives and interests into our curriculum. It felt like a loving tribute to all the times I or my conversation partner had made the attempt to connect in a tongue not our own, and we both smiled and understood, even if we didn’t say all the words right.
So I kept learning, I keep learning. And the more that I learn, the more that I see that it is not about building a huge repertoire of “activities” that expands every time I log onto Pinterest. It is really only about speaking slowly and using my body and voice so that students understand and can be understood. I look into my students’ eyes, and I feel connected, joyful.
I sense now that my career will not be an endless drudgery of activities and exercises, but an endless expansion of my ability to communicate and connect with other people. I will get better at literacy activities, I will get better at speaking comprehensibly, I will get better at classroom management specific to this discipline. But - how wonderful - doing this will mean meeting tons of really cool young people and learning about their unique, beautiful lives.
I thought about quitting for a while, but not anymore. Too many good stories to hear.
- Ben Fisher