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