Have you thought about starting this new school year with comprehension-based teaching? Have you read every single blog posts on Comprehensible Input, are part of all the CI Facebook groups, and
stalk follow all the CI gurus? … but instead of starting you found yourself even more overwhelmed and hesitant to fully apply or apply small parts of this method … Finding a local group of teachers – thanks Mike Peto for creating this list – where teachers are meeting to work together, supporting one another in the process, and where some of them are possibly going through the same exact feelings of doubts and hesitations as you are might be helpful in realizing that you are not alone and that yes indeed, with some encouragement and support, you can do it, that you can successfully start your year with comprehension-based teaching whether by implementing one strategy for the entire year or going full on from day one. Go for it. Dive right in! All those ideas from all those groups are innovative and just so awesome, but sometimes it is better to back up a little (or a lot), go back to the basic idea of Comprehensible Input and just find what works for you and your students.
After reading some recent new blog posts from the iFLT18 conference – I couldn’t make it this year (insert sad face here) – and after presenting a half day workshop in June on Free Voluntary Reading and most recently a full day workshop on “an introduction to comprehension-based teaching” this past Tuesday, July 24th, I felt inspired and created this picture with 10 basics or reminders when starting with comprehension-based teaching in this coming school year ❤️ I hope you will find it useful!
As you can tell, those 10 reminders aren’t something new, you might have heard, read, and even told someone else about them many times; however, I found myself repeatedly mentioning them throughout my presentation on Tuesday (almost like a chant to myself and others) and as I got home that Tuesday evening, those ‘reminders’ were still flashing through my mind and I just had to create the image above.
So where to start? As a language teacher, give as much INPUT as you can in your classes: speak the target language so students can listen, give written text so students can read. As long as the INPUT (listening and reading) is comprehensible and comprehended by your students and as long as it is compelling, relevant to them so that they are engaged, you are doing it. You are doing comprehension-based teaching! The OUTPUT (writing and speaking) will also come in time to your students and more naturally after being exposed to TONS of comprehended input. As you give comprehensible input in your classes, as you start your journey into a more proficiency-forward path, and as you begin this new school year, consider the following reminders.
(1) Go slow, go really S….L….O….W: to this day I still have to make a conscious effort when I speak in the TL to do so slowly enough for students to follow along – it is difficult as a native French speaker: when I think I’m going slow, I purposefully make myself slow down even more because well I often end up not speaking the TL slowly enough! Counting 3 seconds between words has helped me. HERE is a great reflection on slowing down by Blair Richard and some steps to start taking to consciously make yourself go slower.
(2) Establish meaning: anytime input is given, it is essential that it is understood, that it is comprehended. When drawing or using images or pointing at objects the meaning might not be as clear as we might think. The best way and the quickest one too is to use a common language (L1) and simply write it (using 2 different colors one color for the TL and one for L1 – I learned this super-cool research-based trick in coaching for coaches back in iFLT17!Duh!) or say it (point at the translation and have students say it in L1). Adding images and gestures (think TPR – Total Physical Response) to the translation will help reinforcing the concept in students minds and you could also use those as a quick check for comprehension afterwards.
(3) Check for comprehension: it is so important to check for comprehension not 5 times, or 10 times, but as many times as you possibly can! Ask your students to tell you in the L1; ask them “to act” the expressions through TPR. Learn to read your students body language and facial expressions: do they look confused by what you just said? If yes, rephrase and simplify! For me, most of the time students have that confused look is because I went too fast! Learn to “Teach to the eyes” as Susan Gross has said! Martina Bex has written a detailed post on checking for comprehension and how to do it right – read more about it HERE.
***As much as we need to check for comprehension I also encourage kids to figure things out for themselves first. For example, when reading, I teach students how to infer the meaning of new words and expressions: by teaching them to look inside the new word – do they recognize part of the word, its root? Is it a verb they are familiar with but the tense is different? (Do some pop-up grammar and delayed notes – if you need to have notes). Also, teaching them to look outside of the word is another good strategy – looking at the entire sentence or paragraph – can they use context clues to infer the meaning of the new word? Are there synonyms, antonyms mentioned or a short explanation following the new term? Does that new term appear in the text multiple times?
(4) Circle: circling is asking a series of comprehension questions about a statement in the TL. Done right, this not only helps the teacher see that students are understanding based on their answers, but also gives students that extra repetition needed to retain the learning that is happening. Reflecting on my first year of teaching, back in 2008, that’s all I did! I circled everything I possibly could and all the time realizing that I overdid it with the circling – my poor students; so be cautious as to it could become boring quickly! My advise here – based on my own experience – is don’t overdo it with circling! A couple of questions to confirm comprehension sprinkled here and there are great and will sound more natural than asking a series of 15 questions about one statement! Use “circling” more as a quick confirmation then move on to PQA, which is the next reminder and the best thing ever 😉 students will get that repetition in a more authentic way – by the way I still kept my ‘circling’ poster from 2008!!! – it’s a simple poster – colors are a bit faded now – I had created it and put on the back wall of my classroom to help me remember how to proceed with the questions – “statement, yes/no question, either/or question, open ended question, circle all parts of the sentence, repeat the statement, mix it up“. Now it’s on the side of my desk 🙂 even though circling is a habit, I still kept the poster !
(5) Personalize comprehension questions: what better way of making your content instantly more interesting for your students than with PQA in the TL!!! Those Personalized Questions and Answers could be done with any CI strategy whether they are movie talk, picture talk, etc. You basically ask questions in the TL to your students in such that you are bringing the content back to them, their personal lives, their own background knowledge, it simply is amazing : for example, if you are having a cultural lesson / picture talk on modes of transportations in a Country, ask personalized questions to your students such as “Sophia, do you have “mode of transportation”? Do you go to school by “mode of transportation” or by “other mode of transportation”? and report to the class : “class, Sophia has “mode of transportation” “Class, Sophia goes to school by “mode of transportation” and not by “mode of transportation”.
(6) Simplify sentences: rephrase to simplify your sentences when in the TL. Keep sentences short and sweet! Use circumlocution! Use high frequency words. Start with the super 7 (coined by terry Waltz) and sweet 16 (Mike Peto) – check out this blog post HERE from Cécile Lainé on the super 7 for French class and some free super 7 pages HERE to print as posters. Use cognates and many examples that are affirmative and even negative ones (for example: it is a cat. It is not a dog, it’s a cat!) . HERE is a great blog post on creating comprehensible text by Martina Bex!
(7) Pause frequently: pause to give processing time: ask a question, pause, then repeat the question again prior to expecting answers, this gives a bit more time for students to process the question. Pause at any time (for example in the middle of a familiar expression I’ll pretend to be thinking to add more drama to it – when I do this with familiar directions, students are so familiar with those directions and almost always end up saying the rest of the direction). Pause at specific times as well – I automatically always pause after emphasizing key words and expressions such as: but, suddenly, and…
***If you are looking to reenergize your class you can do so by giving a longer pause/break of 1 minute or 2: a Brain Break in fact, because the input process can be so intense, I believe they are necessary in the classroom not only for students but teachers as well!
(8) Set clear expectations: prior to ANY activity, I can’t repeat this often enough – make it clear and let kids know (yes again) what those expectations are right before doing a brain break, before doing picture talk, before playing loup-garou, before doing any kind of activity in class. I usually say something like this: “class, we are about to start a super cool listening activity. I expect that you listen with the intent to understand; that means look where the action is and notify me when I’m not being clear enough by using our gestures. Let’s review those gestures … It’s okay to blurt out in French – actually I expect that you do so because based on your responses I will know you are following and comprehending – but it’s not okay to blurt out in English unless I ask for a translation. There shouldn’t be anything on your hands, … “. Very important to set those expectations crystal clear! Check out this post HERE where I’ve linked many sites on classroom management.
(9) Put relationships at the heart: work on creating positive relationships, by making connections with students, and building your class community. This might be the most important piece of advice I had ever received when I started teaching. Without trust and without investing on building classroom community nothing works. When teaching a lesson, even if it is the best lesson ever, the best lesson in the world even, chances are that it will not go as predicted in a class that doesn’t trust you, in a class where students don’t feel included. I believe that comprehension-based teaching is the way to go. *Having students trust you: having them see that they can do it, that they can actually acquire a new language through this method is powerful. *Making them feel valued and heard by doing lots of PQA and special person interviews as well as giving them the responsibility of classroom jobs; by creating stories together and taking their ideas – often times those stories end up being the most fun and silliest ones *Encouraging them and truly seeing them by having that one-on-one interaction when giving a password by the door, giving a high five here and there (or better yet, lots of them throughout the day) and looking at them, looking at them in the eyes, really seeing them. Those are all examples of a great start in building relationships, trust, and inclusion! Classroom community building doesn’t happen in one or two days; it doesn’t just happen in two weeks or two months. So there is really no shortcuts because building and maintaining relationships is a work in progress; it is something that is necessary to do from day one and continue doing until the very last day of school.
(10) Laugh often. Have fun. Be yourself! What better way of bringing a community together than with lots of laughter. I say jokes are great and I try not to take myself too seriously 😉 – in fact, in class, we always laugh about me losing everything from CDs to my smartboard remote – it makes for some good and predictable conversations in the TL! “darn it! I lost my remote again! Again Madame! Yep! Again! Where did I put it? Did I give it to you? You forgot! Yes! I forgot, I don’t remember, etc. ” but that’s how I am and my students always try to help me with that haha – As far as being yourself, I couldn’t write this better than Annabelle Allen – La Maestra Loca – and her blog post, a reflection from iFLT18, on being yourself, on being enough; check it out HERE it is powerful!
Be yourself find what works for you and your students and more importantly, take care of yourself!
Voilà! Maybe it was a bit more than just 10 reminders, but by doing the workshops (where I taught the concepts, demoed them, and coached teachers who were practicing and using them) it has really helped me reflect on all of this – how to get off to a great start into this new school year with comprehension-based teaching! There isn’t just one right way or just one way of doing this but these were my 10 reminders – the 10 things I emphasized and found myself repeating multiple times during these summer 2018 workshops ~ it really does take time to make them part of your daily routine ~ be patient with yourself and choose one or two strategies to focus on at a time don’t forget you are not alone in this journey.
EDIT: Here are a few other resources:
*Martina Bex published this super awesome post! It pretty much covers everything I mentioned above and more with great details!!! Martina you rock!!! Here it is: how to teach such that they understand
*Learn all about comprehensible input by visiting Dr. Stephen Krashen’s site
*I also came across this Wikipedia page on TPRS and other CI techniques
*Martina Bex and Cécile Lainé collaborated to create a great list of resources for teachers who are NEW to comprehension-based teaching. Cécile Lainé shares a French version on the CI / TPRS for French Teachers Facebook – click HERE! This is super useful! Tank you ladies!