Fābulae Mīrābilēs (Amazing Stories):Building Reading Proficiency by Creating a Continuous CI Narrative
I am writing this blog post for the CI Posse to share with the greater world language teaching community how I have implemented a year-long class story as my Latin 1 curriculum for the last three years. Generally, I teach my first-year students using a mix of CI/TPRS strategies and high-frequency vocabulary from my school’s textbook (now Ecce Romani, previously Latin for the New Millennium), the Dickinson Core Vocabulary List for Latin, the 51 Most Important Latin Verbs, and other sources. However, the main inspiration is this concept: a large part of the plot comes from the minds of my students. I will give a quick explanation of my modus operandi here.
How have I structured this experiment?
In previous years I began with a modified version of Keith Toda's Week 1 Lesson Plan and added into it ideas I gathered from Justin Slocum Bailey's Express Fluency training in Vermont in 2016. Using basic words like vult, habet, est, and it (wants, has, is, goes), I created the first chapter with these types of details: wanting an animal, not having one, going to a place, etc. The students gave me the answers through Personalized Questions and Answers (PQA) and we created the first layer of the narrative. This year I still used the basic vocabulary and idea, but the script deviated from the original.
The general principle revolves around the following: taking basic textbook vocabulary along with other words I think they should know, and using basic TPRS techniques or One Word Images to get more details about the characters. I pick approximately ten words per chapter from the book vocabulary to use in questioning and surveys to obtain these story ideas.
For example, in the story created two years ago at my previous school, the students gave me this basic info about the characters: Maximus is the son of a sailor and Clarissa is a farmer's daughter. Maximus is a sailor like his father but he loves Clarissa, so he goes to the land. Clarissa takes care of chickens for a living, and Maximus becomes a Latin teacher to the chickens.
We later introduced another character; one of my students volunteered his nickname to be used, because he wanted a part in the story. His alter ego became the antagonist who tries to steal the chickens in various ways. The main idea of the story involved these three people and their adventures. The plot became crazier as it unfolded. Later on we included other characters, including Clarissa’s uncle, who plays an important part in the final quarter of the book. “Maximus et Clarissa” was written with 16 chapters and about 4,000 total words; I later edited the story and published it as Maximus et Caecilia.
How did I inquire so many details in a fairly large class, and now in much smaller classes at my current school? I give students questionnaires in English before a new chapter. Having a written component to the process not only allows me to manage the students’ actions, but also gives me some quality control in responses. Sometimes I ask them how they think the story should go while we are reading the current chapter, as a way to provide feedback. Consistency is key in creating the narrative. In the surveys I target either specific vocabulary words or constructions that I want to include. Sometimes I just ask for quirky details to gather plot twists or SUBITŌ moments (“suddenly…”).
Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum (“The Adventures of Livia and Friends”)
Last year, my first year in my current school, I had a Latin 1 class of six ninth-grade girls. Our story last year involved Livia, Octavius, their animal friends Antonius the tiger and Laurentius the unicorn, as well as several other characters. Their answers to surveys and random discussions in class led to a very well-developed plot. The story reflects the Itinera (literally “journeys”) in the title very well, as traveling is an overarching motif: the characters are always going somewhere or trying to get someplace. It is a comedy of errors in many respects, borrowing elements from comedic tropes of all ages of literature. It is also a “fractured fairy tale” of sorts with talking animals who sometimes act smarter than the human protagonists. Although Octavius is the one on the main mission, the real star of the story is Livia.
Livia, a young Roman woman in her late teens, solves many of the problems the characters encounter and helps her friends in any way possible. She is strong-willed, independent, and determined. The other female characters are of the same disposition, and through their courage and wisely planned activities the various setbacks get resolved. In many ways Livia and the other non-male characters defy the social expectations of the Roman era and display their freedom of expression and wisdom.
Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum is composed of about 6,100 total words, one of the longest CI Latin novellas currently written. Some of the chapters are considerably longer because of plot development. There is much dialogue between the characters, which adds to the liveliness and humor of the story. Now in Latin 2 we still quote the story on a regular basis! I will be publishing it as soon as possible, as I cannot wait to share this creation with the rest of the Latin teaching and learning world.
Stories in progress
Currently I am writing two stories using my method: “Aluna et Caelius” in Latin 1 and “Dioclēs et Flōra” in Latin 2. The Aluna story is really just beginning, but it involves Aluna, a girl from Gaul living in Rome, and Caelius, her Roman friend who gives her a pet giraffe named Claudius. Claudius runs away and right now finds himself in Egypt, where he befriends a hedgehog of royal descent named Brutus. Both the animals came from the One Word Image process. That is where we are currently in plot development.
“Dioclēs et Flōra” is my first venture into writing a full-year Latin 2 story, although second-year students last year wrote several of their own fun stories. Diocles is a Greek boy in Rome who while escaping from trouble meets Flora, a sixteen year-old Roman girl who is living independently because her family has left the city for various reasons. Diocles wants to learn about Roman culture, and our aim for the story is for Flora to show him various landmarks around Imperial-era Rome. As an added bonus, students will also learn about Greek culture from Diocles’ perspective. As of now, we’ve learned about Roman inns and the temple to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva on the Capitoline Hill.
So how do I actually teach these stories?
I will keep this simple. Here is my process as outlined in several of my presentations:
You can always contact me if you are interested in seeing further examples of this or have any specific questions. My two published novellas, Iter Mirabile Dennis et Debrae and Maximus et Caecilia are on Amazon, and Itinera Līviae et Amīcōrum is almost ready for publication. I thank you all for your support!
Christopher Buczek, Ph.D.
When I started my teaching journey sixteen years ago, I knew a few things. I knew that I didn’t want to teach the way I’d been taught. Not just Latin, but overall. I had a few shining exceptions, but I had spent my career as a student watching the few who were like me privileged and elevated at the expense of the majority of students who just weren’t made for the cookie-cutter factory school scene.
I also knew that I wanted to communicate with teachers in other areas, especially among my department (i.e., foreign language) and the special education department to make sure I was offering the best and most modern teaching methods to my students as often as possible.
Finally, I had heard about and experienced a tiny excerpt from a language method called TPRS, demonstrated by the inimitable Jason Fritze, and I was sold. In three hours I was able to speak more Spanish than I had been able to speak after three semesters of college Spanish. So I knew I wanted to learn more about TPRS and learn how to use it in my classes. I felt like it was the key to teaching all kinds of minds.
Here’s what I didn’t know. I had focused on the concept of teaching to all kinds of students and all kinds of minds—that was my starting point for my entire teaching philosophy—but I hadn’t yet realized that all kinds of students and all kinds of minds was more than intellectual. I figured out when I was a kid that “smart” was a term that really didn’t mean much to me; it was used to define kids who learned a certain way that society seemed to value, but I found there were a lot of people I had really deep, meaningful, and useful conversations with who weren’t “smart” and were often considered “stupid” by societal definitions. Even worse, these other students believed these categories they’d been put in and considered me intellectually superior just because I was “smart.” So I was already seeking a betterway to do school long before I even knew I was going to be a teacher.
However, I didn’t yet know that some of these categories were also culturally tied. That has been a major part of my growth over the past sixteen years. When I became a teacher with the things I already knew, I hit the ground running, reading Krashen like he was going out of style and attending a training called All Kinds of Minds that focused on the different ways students can struggle with learning. It wasn’t until a few years later that I read Ruby Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty and began thinking about the possibility that some of the behaviors that I considered inappropriate could be socio-economically based and within that socio-economic context not only not inappropriate, but even
positive and supportive.
It has taken even more years to understand that all kinds of minds are more than just intellectual—they are cultural, medical, and socio-economic. Students come from backgrounds that shape how they learn just as much as their mental propensities.
And the amazing thing is, TPRS is still relevant. TPRS, and, more importantly, Comprehensible Input, allow me to teach to all kinds of minds. By focusing on live, comprehensible input instead of memorization and homework, I help both students who have processing difficulties and those who have after-school jobs and obligations. By taking the time to make sure my classes are compelling and full of material that reflects student interests and cultures, I reach students who usually have difficulty making deeper connections between concepts both intellectually and personally. By caring about my students, their lives, their worries, their fandoms, and their passions, I regularly demonstrate to students that no matter whether they look and act exactly like me and love the things I love, or have completely different backgrounds and interests, I am there for them and they are important to me.
This is why for fifteen years Comprehensible Input theory (or some form of it) has been my primary focus. By following the basic tenets of CI—Comprehensible, Compelling, and Caring—I am constantly reaching out to all kinds of students and all kinds of minds.
Check out the Vlog from Craig Klein below!
There’s always a story and this will forever be my favorite student story to tell. I’m certain you have one similar. And that’s what this post is about: the student story. Or, more likely, the students’ stories. Maybe this
tale will serve as a sweet reminder.
The last autumn that I was teaching, Anthony was new to my class. Though the rest of the students on that roster and I had already spent the previous two years together (by design), seemingly, there should have been no new-to-me students in that class, but there he was. Already feeling out of place, when Anthony did participate (rare), he did so in English and not the target language. And what he contributed was full of snark, with a side dose of humor. He was not picking up what I was throwing down, and I wanted to make sure to “have a chat” before it was too late. One day I pulled him aside and simply asked him. Nicely. I asked very nicely. “How are things going for
you?” Thinking I was asking him about class, his reply was simply, “I totally suck at Spanish.” I banked on the kid’s sense of humor when I responded with, “Yeah. Besides the obvious, what else is going on?”
We laughed. A lot, actually.
And from there we made a plan. Nothing formal, but a plan nonetheless.
The “how” we decided to proceed in class is completely secondary - maybe even tertiary - to the “why.” That day, I listened to the less-than-Reader’s Digest version of Anthony’s history with Spanish because he needed to tell me. He needed me to know that he felt that he “sucked” at Spanish, but more importantly, he needed me to see him. As a person. To hear him, and all that comes with that.
So, while you are knee-deep in rubrics and standards and all sorts of other pressures, remember the young humans in your charge. They want to know you as much as you (hopefully) want to know them. This article, Improving Students Relationships with Teachers to Provide Essential Supports for Learning - common sense more than anything else, outlines how teachers/learning leaders can further help students develop socially, at
a time when they may be challenged with a myriad of other issues.
Language exploration invites/allows/encourages errors. A perfect petri dish for kids who might be programmed in “perfection” being the only way. And the connection with an adults who allows such imperfection: priceless.
All pedagogy aside (mostly because I can’t quote or reference any), language teachers are in the unique position to pay close attention to the humans in their classes. While some might argue that the acquisition of the language is more important, human connection needs to come first, lest there be no want, willingness or wonder to create the unfamiliar sounds and phrases. Human interaction begets language and vice versa.
Seemingly, at least in Anthony’s eyes, those are the lessons that stick with the students most. This post is not new and not news. Just a reminder about the human element of teaching, but especially language leading. Anthony went on to graduate, was accepted into a college and received a sizeable scholarship for his efforts - and he thanked me. No, he still really can’t put too many words of Spanish together well, but that doesn’t stop him from trying, and that is the very best part of this tale. Surely you have an Anthony story. Please share. And if you don’t (yet), you will.
Having organized, hosted and led over a dozen student foreign exchange experiences in my career, makes me think about how to bring that excitement, adventure and connection to the culture of what I’m teaching in the classroom. Nothing can match the impact on the 15 years olds as they ride away from the airport with their new host families, one at a time, with saucer eyes. Instantly plunked into the life of a same-aged-peer in a foreign country, exchange students have that sweet-spot... that 360 degree view of the language and culture.
Clearly not every day can my students be heading off to a host family in Latin America, but they can be taken on a journey toward cultural competency right from the classroom. Investing the time to read a novel as a whole-class can rival the exchange student experience and open up incredible avenues of cultural insight. Moving slowly and taking advantage of every tidbit of the story, being sure that 100% comprehension is being met, brings those tactile, sensory experiences of the main characters to the students’ emotional core, allowing them to identify with the characters through common
experiences and background information.
For me, guiding my class through a leveled reader transports us to a unique location and gives me the spark I need to make it real. Expanding on the sights, sounds and smells embedded in the story’s location, and immersing students in an engaging story, allows us to fully take part in the adventure without leaving the classroom.
Like a trip to an exciting new destination, a good tour guide will keep the group together, losing no one and leaving no child behind on the road to language acquisition. The guide will point out things that students might miss, and encourage conversation about the experience of the story. The closer and closer students identify with the characters, they begin to see life through the
cultural lens of the people in the story; understanding their choices, attitudes and reactions.
Being certain that all students understand and deeply understand every step of the journey, allows the cultural viewpoint of people and places to surround the classroom... and for cultural nuance to organically become part of language acquisition.
Engaged in the adventure, connected to the characters and immersed in the sensory imagery of the story location is the sweet-spot where language acquisition explodes.
- Virginia Hildebrandt
MittenCI 2018, 377 teachers from 16 states, gathered together in Saline, MI on the weekend of April, 20th. It was an incredible weekend, with many returning attendees from 2017 and many brand new to the world of teaching for proficiency. How did it happen and why? What keeps people coming back to conferences like this? Read on for the answers to these questions, a sneak-peek at some behind-the-scenes Mitten info, and a hint about some of the exciting things we are working on for next year!
MittenCI started as a glimmer of an idea, when Kristy Placido and I spoke about the lack of Comprehensible Input training in Michigan. The conference became a reality when Beth Gregones and I decided that we needed more training to help our district transition from legacy teaching (with textbooks, vocabulary sheets, and grammar rules) to the Comprehensible Input (CI) style of teaching. A few teachers in my district had been to multiple trainings, but most had only had a single TPRS training with Blaine Ray. If you have made the jump from legacy teaching to CI teaching, you will know what a challenge this can be; and how training with experienced teachers can make all the difference in the world to your transition. The problem was that our district did not have the money to bring in the big name trainers. The only way Beth and I could make it happen was to bring the trainers in at no cost to our district. The only way to do that was to host a conference. Saline agreed to give us the space for free, if we could bring in the trainers (if you build it, they will come).
Beth and I had no idea what we were doing when we first started working on the conference. We started by asking Carol Gaab, and Kristy Placido of Fluency Matters to join us; to our shock, they said yes! From there we quickly added Dr. Bill VanPatten, Carrie Toth, Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey, and many other incredible talents (both local and from far afield). We emailed teachers across the state, begged the high school culinary instructor, Chef Musto to make us delicious food (priorities), and agonized over decisions like what kind of name tags to order. Not only did we do this at the end of the school year (when we both had a million projects going on for our actual classrooms), but we also did it for FREE. That's right, for free folks. Saline let us have the space gratis, but we were not allowed to pay ourselves. So Beth, myself, and our dedicated language teachers worked like crazy people to make it happen! Going into the first day of the first Mitten conference we were not sure we would hold another conference. It was an insane amount of work, and we were completely exhausted.
Why did we do it again? And why do we already have a date for 2019? Because of all of you amazing teachers out there. The joy in the halls was palpable. There were teachers literally crying tears of joy. They had never heard of this method of teaching, they wanted more. More training, more camaraderie, and more Mitten. Our conference started as a way to get training to our district, but it was clear from the first day that it was so much more than that.
Before we crawled home on that Saturday, we had already decided to do it again. Teachers coming together to support each other, and grow together is one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. The power we have when we work together, and support each other, can literally change the world. What could be more important?
You may be wondering, where is the description of the sessions and other great takeaways? The truth is, between organizing, teaching two language labs (see a video of one of them below), and running a session on Bad Unicorn, I was not able to attend a single presentation. I did find a few great blogs about other sessions though, and you can check out one from Sarah Breckley here; and from Señorita Glasbrenner here. You can also see a great video of what the conference looked like with Darren Way below!
Want a hint about the upcoming Mitten conference? We will have 7 presenters on Friday next year AND our keynote is the incredible Dr. Krashen!
Why throw a conference if you can't even take advantage of the learning opportunities? Because it is bigger than any one teacher, or one school. This is about changing our profession, lifting each other up, and changing the world.
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela
For teacher appreciation week, I posted my 'Teacher Stats' on Facebook. I realized that over the course of my career I have connected with over 4,000 students. Each student is a chance to lift a child up, to teach them another language, to teach them about the differences between local culture and new places in the world, and most importantly to teach each child how we are all the same in our basic need for love and understanding. If we can teach children to appreciate the differences, but also to see the connections between themselves and the rest of humanity, we as teachers, and as language teachers specifically, have a chance to change the world in a way that no other profession can.
We can only do that if we support each other and grow together. This is what Mitten was and will be about, and I hope that you can join us at ACTFL at the CiPosse booth, at our house at ACTFL for salon-style after hours conversations, or at one of the amazing conference opportunities below. As a teacher alone, we can make a difference, but as teachers united, we can change the world.
Upcoming Training Opportunities:
NTPRS: July 9th- July 13th
Comprehensible Cascadia: July 10th- July 12th
IFLT: July 17th-July 20th
Express Fluency: August 6th-9th
CiMidwest: October 5th-7th
ACTFL: November 16th-18th
MittenCI: April 26th-27th
I hope to see all of you amazing difference makers at a conference soon!
Erica M. Peplinski
Have you failed at anything lately? Last year I didn't succeed in one of my major goals. I attempted National Board Certification, but did not pass. OUCH! That was a major blow, and the first time in a few decades that I was unable to attain a professional goal I set for myself. After I had turned in my work, but before I knew the outcome, I attended a conference in Bethesda, MD last summer. I was changed by that conference in unexpected ways.
See all the times I used the word ¨I¨ in that paragraph? I, I, I…..Teaching can be a solitary profession. Even when we are working with other teachers, World Languages teachers can feel alone. Maybe you are the only one in your department, or the only one teaching your language. Maybe you do not see eye-to-eye with your colleagues. There are many reasons why you may feel alone sometimes. For me, it is a tendency to want to do things myself and not to rely on others that sometimes leads me to do things alone. When I was working on NBTC, I was the only teacher in our cadre who was a World Languages teacher. That, plus my natural inclination, led me to try to complete my components mostly on my own. (I hate asking for help.)
Back to that conference. I took two precious summer days, a couple hundred bucks, and my professional BFF and we headed to the CI Liftoff summer conference. It was phenomenal to spend time with two of my favorite CI mentors, Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. I learned a lot at that conference, but that is not what this blog post is about. After I came home from the conference the real magic started. I joined a professional group on FaceBook, I started having collaborative relationships with other members of the group, and I started moving forward on projects dear to my heart. Finding the right Professional Learning Community is an important step in professional growth. That does not always happen in your school building.
One day this winter, I found out that I had not achieved NBCT. At the same time, teachers across the country were finding out the same outcome, or deciding that they would join the next round of teachers attempting this certification. This inevitably led to discussions online in several different professional groups to which I belong. The most warm and productive discussions came about with members of the CI community. Another teacher and I were working on the same components and a third member of the community agreed to mentor us. Justin, Kim and I formed a Mastermind.
The idea of a Mastermind has its origins with Napoleon HIll, who conceived of the idea for people in the business word. The group is intended to assist you in overcoming obstacles by harnessing the collective wisdom of a group. In our context, it is a group of like-minded educators meeting at intervals they decide- taking up each other's burdens, sharing ideas and connections, and confronting challenges together. People rave about the effectiveness of these groups, and I can attest to the energy that flows from sessions of our Mastermind.
In our Mastermind group, Kim and I have both found the kind of mutual support, feedback, and encouragement to achieve excellence. I look at the level of work I was able to achieve on my own last year, and I can see tremendous growth when I compare it to the work I am doing this year. Justin is the more experienced member, and the leader of the group. He is able to gently guide our conversations, provide constructive criticism, and cheer us on. I know that in the future I will want to continue this collaborative work and form other Mastermind groups where I can work with other groups on other goals.
Don't let geography, your working conditions, or your mindset stand in your way. You can find the like-minded colleagues you need to help you achieve your goals, reflect more deeply on your practice, and be the cheering section you need. We know that it takes a village to raise a child, and it might just take a Mastermind to raise a teacher.
Where do you look? Check out professional groups on FaceBook. Search for blogs, twitter handles, and accounts on Teachers Pay Teachers. Still struggling? I am happy to help. Send an email to email@example.com and I will see if I can put you in touch with the right group of teachers. You can form your own Mastermind and start to see the positivity flow!
- Nissa Quil
If you walk into my classroom, you’ll first notice a big empty space. No desks, no chairs. Well, if you look carefully, there are some chairs stacked in the corner. But, for the most part it’s empty space.
If you were to observe a class of students, however, the movement is actually the first thing you would notice. Really, how often do you see students and teachers jump, move around like animals, skip, or create the pegasus you see above? Depending on the day and level, movement can be integrated throughout the entire class period.
The empty space allows for movement and the movement supports community building, establishing a target language environment and helps me deliver comprehensible input to my students.
Here is a quick list of how I use movement in our Spanish classroom:
1. Attention/Classroom Management & Brain Breaks- I use movement to help students focus. This has two parts. I will call out a movement that will 1. help students to focus and 2. allows the me to easily see who is listening.
For example, we may say hands up, touch your head, jump or stand on one foot. Doing whatever movement is called out helps students to realize directions are coming up and the teacher can easily see who heard and is listening actively.
A movement is also used when we see that students are fidgeting or losing focus. When I look around the circle and see signs of checking out, I quickly bring a movement into class to get the blood flowing, the mind focused and back to the topic. Annabelle Allen describes this well in the Inspired Proficiency Podcast, episode 5.
2. Pairings and Groupings/Community Building: We have students move around the classroom a lot in order to interact with different people. I may have students move across the class doing different actions and when they move to a new spot they are new near people with whom they can talk.We may also ask them to make a line in order of their height or how many hours of sleep they got last night and this also gives us a new order to pair and group students in. We may have them dance around the room and when the music stops they have to create a group of three as quickly as they can. There are countless ways that open space and movement can allow for students to interact in many different configurations throughout a single class period.
3. Play! Movement is fun. We infuse our classes with play through movement that takes students out of their comfort zone and just gives them the freedom to be silly, to be kids. Sometimes we move like crabs, jump on one foot, paddle a canoe with a friend, move like a spy or create a train with the class. This might seem silly…. Well, it is! But, as I narrate in Spanish and they feel what the words mean with the movement their bodies make, it’s not only fun but also a great strategy for maximizing comprehensible input.
4. Comprehensible Input
The open space and movement allows for me to act out anything and for the students to play along. When we all use gestures and movement with the target language, and THAT keeps me accountable for keeping it all comprehensible. If students don’t move the way I say, I know I’ve said something that’s too complicated. I explain games, tell stories, ask and answer questions, describe movies and pictures, all in the target language, all with students interacting and moving and eventually talking.
We definitely take movement to the extreme in my department. And of course, I don’t think everyone has to do the same. But, I would challenge you to think about how much your students are moving and whether adding some of the movement I’ve described might enhance the amazing things you do in your classroom already. If you want to talk more about this, comment below and I can discuss it on the Inspired Proficiency podcast.
- Ashley Uyaguari
Picture the scene: a high-school classroom, a rainy Friday afternoon in late April 2008. 25 or 30 students in that last-period Latin II class are attempting -- not very successfully -- to focus on an activity that they usually enjoy. After 15 years teaching in That Particular School District, I have a pretty good idea of how things “usually” work, and I’m trying -- not very successfully -- to ignore a sudden flash of intuition: what “usually” works is no longer working.
“You guys look so sad. What’s up?” I finally ask. And they tell me: “We just hate textbooks. We hate everything about them. The readings are contrived and stupid; the characters in them are flat and dead; the grammar explanations are dumb; the exercises are ridiculous; the things about culture are obviously too simple.” The floodgates opened, and as they listed their objections, I realized something important. They were saying what I had been realizing -- not just about That Particular Textbook (which, to be fair, is a “good textbook” as textbooks go), but about the relationship between pre-packaged learning and 21st-century learners.
“We hate textbooks, but we like this class,” they told me. “We really like it when we make up stories together -- when we make better characters and better stories and better situations. Couldn’t we just do that?”
Yes, we could do that. Yes, we should do that. And they had some very specific ideas about how we should do that -- ideas that are important when you’re dealing with a “not dead but immortal” language, ideas that have been influencing my work with engaging CI in Classical languages for a decade. “Great stories,” they said, though not in these exact words, “make you think about great questions. Stories and Questions are key.”
As we built great stories and great questions together, and as I learned more about Stories and Questions, I realized there’s a particular rhythm of questions that I follow, whether I’m building a story with language learners, designing a workshop or conference session, or talking with someone who might want to work with me. The questions are important, but so is the order, and this is the order that has worked best for me:
I think of the CI techniques that Justin Slocum Bailey listed last week as a beautiful toolbox filled with beautiful tools, and I’m reminded of a great quote from my friend (and fellow Latin teacher) Jason Talley, who once said
Tools are how we solve problems. What is the problem we’re trying to solve here?
On that April Friday in 2008, it turned out to be a “Who and Where” problem. My students and I had a shared Why (purpose) and What (desired results): they wanted to learn Latin, understand Roman culture, and be able to read and understand “real things that real Romans really wrote.” But the “Who” and “Where” of That Textbook’s authors were so different from ours that we couldn’t use That Textbook as an effective tool. We had to build characters and stories together instead -- characters and stories that ultimately grew into “this little thing” and took me on a journey I never would have imagined. But your students aren’t mine, and we may or may not share a Why or a What. “One size fits all” doesn’t work for clothes, and it works even less well for language acquisition.
If it seems like you’re “struggling with CI,” or if it seems like your students are “resisting” or “getting stuck,” try working through those questions in the order I listed them. Struggles, disconnections, and stuckness are usually symptoms -- symptoms of a disconnect between your How and at least one of those other questions. Find the disconnect, and a solution will probably be obvious. And if you can’t find a solution alone, don’t worry: there’s a whole Posse out here, ready and waiting to help.
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