Step 1: Select contexts and strategies for providing compelling CI
What will my stuents find compelling? I use a variety of contexts for authentic and compelling input for my students. I emphasize auditory input, with the "critical input" activities followed by reading what students heard. Here are a few examples of contexts, although this is by no means exhaustive:
- Morning news and agenda - We talk about the date, the agenda, the weather, and calendar events (no reading)
- Comprehensible Comics - I show a comic and describe what is happening in each scene as well as make any dialogue comprehensible (followed by listening and reading OR listening and looking at the comic as well as a formative self-evaluation for student comprehension)
- Story Listening - If you're not familiar with this activity, please see my other more-comprehensive posts about what this entails (followed by reading, formative self-evaluation of comprehension, and "interaction" with the text using a menu of activities)
- Co-Creation - I use this to refer to the variety of methods from TPRS and Ben Slavic which involve creating a character, siuation, or story (often followed by write and discuss and reading)
- Personalized Questioning and Answering (PQA) - Essentially, using the target language to interview and talk about students. Please research the particular skills and routines associated with this if you're not already familiar with them. (not usually followed by reading)
- Structured Reading and Discussion - This refers to a variety of strategies used to read and re-read a text, including discussion and listening. I recommend looking at Ben Slavic's Big CI Book.
- Free Reading - Students self-select reading materials based on level and interest.
Step 2: Select the language that will be used and how you will make it comprehensible
What will you talk about and how? What do you need to do to "stay in bounds," or in other words ensure that students can comprehend what you are saying and not get overwhelemed or oversaturated? This involves identifying:
- Words that students already know and can be readily and easily used
- Words that are familiar but not yet known - these require context or other cues for meaning
- New or tricky words - these will require the highest level of support
- "Noise" words - words you might use but that students don't need to necessarily know or even be aware of to understand the message. These words do not go on the board nor are they intentionally repeated or used in a way that expects students to understand them (assuming you've made meaning clear another way). For instance, you might "gloss" over a part of the story where you can make meaning clear through drawings or gestures, but where a focus on understanding the auditory input might push students beyond the i+1 level or oversaturate them. This also provides differentiation for students who might already understand the "core" auditory input and be ready to acquire the "in between" or "extra" words. After providing the input and assessment may wish to provide a list of these words to students who desire them.
When I get to class, I pick word cards that correspond with the story to guide me and to show to my students as I provide input (these are like my verb word wall, but in GIANT magnetic form with Spanish on one side and Spanish/English on the other). For more organic activities, I just have an idea of what language I might use to facilitate the conversation and then adjust the conversation and make it comprehensible as appropriate during class. This does require skill to think on-the-spot about what will be "in" and "out" of bounds, and what you will do with that language. For this reason, I feel that Story Listening, Comprehensible Comics, and other pre-planned activities are easier for new CI teachers.
Step 3: Determine how you will check for comprehension
This can be done a variety of ways, although the teacher must be careful not to raise the affective filter and make students anxious or feel put-on-the-spot. I use a variety of methods, and they differ based on the activity.
- Signals - Students are expected to signal me, either with a red card or a time-out sign, if I've confused them. I make sure they know that it's the message that's important, not individual words. However, if they get "lost", then it's time to signal me so that I can do my job better (my job is to make the language comprehensible for them).
- Questioning - This could be circling or another type of comprehension check. I do not use extensive questioning during stories, if at all, because it disrupts the flow of the story (the exception is when I ask a "natural" question that fits with the telling of the story, such as those a kindergarten teacher might ask when reading out loud to her students). However, during interactive activities such as PQA or even finding out what students think about the weather, I circle and compare responses as long as it is still compelling.
- Body Language and Authentic Responses - this is a much more subtle way to check comprehension and I encourage newer teachers to have a "back up" of some sort to get a second meansure. However, body language and the ways students respond to information they understand can often communicate comprehension clearly, especially with smaller groups where the teacher is able to pay attention to the behaviors of all of the students. TPR gestures can also communicate comprehension.
- Translation, summary, or other reaction to information - I use this at "checkpoint" moments in order to make sure everyone is at the same point. For instance, at natural transition points in the story, I may ask for a volunteer to summarize what has happened so far. This lets me know how I'm doing making information comprehensible AND it makes sure that everyone is up-to-speed to the current point and can continue comprehending. I might also ask for a ticket-out the door which summarizes or responds to the story in some way (What was your favorite part? Which part would you change, why, and how? etc.) Finally, I usually only use translation when reading, in which case we might orally translate as a class.
- Formative Feedback - This is where I get most of my data. Students simply indicate how much they understood. They do this either through a single-digit score out of four points (4 = understood nearly everything, 3 = most, 2 = half, 1 = less than half) and/or by highlighting the text that they understand as I read it aloud to them. I use this information to measure how well I did to make language comprehensible as well as to identify my struggling students.
Step 4: Determine whether a grade will be attached to an activity, why, and how
This is where each teacher will have to determine what fits with their philosophy, goals, and program. I've changed my grading system three times this year alone, but I do feel that the most recent system might stick because it's easy and authentic. I grade anything that is formative as a completion grade - these make up 50% of their overall grade. Students are letting me know how well I am doing my job - it's my 50%, so as long as they let me know how I did, they get the grade. The other 50% is based on their behaviors aligned with my expectations for them, since those behaviors will lead to acquisition. Because I have pretty clear routines in my class and pre-made forms, this requires no extra preparation beyond printing copies of resources.
That's it! As long as I'm not trying anything new (or blogging about it!), it usually only takes me about 15-30 minutes to plan for all of my classes each day. I take about 15 minutes to plan my weekly outline ahead of time. Then, all that is left to do during the week is picking language to use and writing up the reading and any related materials. Assuming I already have a story, comic, or other context in ind, this takes about another 15-30 minutes to create the resources and differentiate them by class level and student need.
To be completely honest, what takes much more time is finding stories and other contexts to talk about, especially for Story Listening. Selecting the right context and/or story means becoming familiar with many stories and how they might be both compelling and comprehensible for your students. However, this is becoming easier and easier as I build a bank of resources (such as this, this, or this, with more listed here) and listen to stories other teachers are telling. One of my best stories was one I learned as a student of Chinese Story Listening!