Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
TIP: Set up the artist station with pride.
We want the artist and the class as a whole to know this is a sacred position, and we treat it that way! Position your artist in a top-secret location (usually at the back of the room) so that they can see the board and what is happening, but no one can see what they're working on. A great artist station usually requires a bit of an investment - I highly recommend using a large easel with a flip chart pad or white butcher paper. This encourages the artist to create large and dynamic artwork visible to the entire class.
TIP: ONLY provide markers.
Crayons are okay, but makers seem to result in the most dynamic pictures while still remaining simple and straightforward. Colored pencils are a no-no! They break, need to be sharpened creating noise and shavings, and tend to result in students adding more details/shading/finesse than is effective for simultaneous creation/drawing. They also don't cover large areas quickly and boldly (note that crayons also have many of these same issues). Markers avoid these drawbacks and send a message that we're really not here for the details or finesse of fine artistry.
Choose artists that can listen and draw at the same time.
You'll be trusting your students to let you know if they can do this. For the first story, use your intuition to choose an engaged and responsible student. When something has to give, it's going to be the input that's lost because students REALLY want to make a great image for the class (see the tips about having an assistant and putting the scribe next to your artist). You'll get a better feel for who your effective artists are as you go - they will likely be quick processors that don't need to hear the input as often in order to keep up with the class and who are confident readers, making up for some of the input they miss when everyone else is listening. They may also be students who are better processors when they're drawing anyway and can quickly and effectively add details from the class and then go back to listening. I would avoid putting artists in an uncomfortable position during the process - if they're not getting the input anymore but creating great work, one story isn't a huge loss - especially if you wrap it up with discussing the artwork and writing an accompanying text. However, MANY stories over time or even two in a row would be a huge loss, so be sure to pay special attention to new artists during your formative assessment of comprehension for that story.
TIP: Give your artist an assistant.
I do like to designate the "lead" artist in order to make final decisions, but a second artist working on the main artwork can be very helpful in generating ideas quickly, listening for when the story moves on and new details/adjustments, checking to make sure the artist isn't adding any details that haven't been discussed, getting the teacher's attention or checking with the scribe (see the next tip) to clarify what the artwork should show, grabbing markers, keeping the artist on track to finish the art along with the story, and simultaneously adding details so that the artwork comes together faster. You may want to put a list of these suggested jobs at the art station so your assistant knows how to best support the lead artist.
TIP: Position your class scribe(s) next to your artist(s).
There will inevitably be times that the artist needs to double check that their art is accurately representing what is being discussed with the class. By putting the scribe (A person who writes down notes in English about the character/story) next to the artist, they can quickly check in with each other to make sure the art is accurate on track to be completed when the class is done creating it.
TIP: Start with One Word Images.
One Word Images can be very simple yet very engaging - meaning they are a great place to start norming your class. Since we all have new students each year who have not experienced Comprehensible Input and story creation, this is a great opportunity to teach students "the game" and set the tone for the class. They are also a launchpad for future stories, so I take time to create at least a few characters at the beginning of the year with each level. For higher level classes, you can subtlety refresh their memory of vocabulary and grammar before moving into new content, especially if students aren't used to CI instruction. When it comes to artists, OWI's are perfect because students are only responsible for one image and one subject in that image: the character. Background information might get mentioned, but that's exactly where it belongs - in the background, perhaps as a symbol or maybe not even at all. Simplicity is key when first teaching students how to create these images.
TIP: Provide Instructions and exemplars, select the artist, and give tips
There are many ways to provide examples. One of the best ways is to simply have them around the room as decor - this creates an inviting place where students are already generating questions in their heads about these characters on the walls - "What are they? What is going on with them? Why are they here? Is our teacher crazy? Let's find out!". Tina Hargaden has a great script for introducing characters/creating. Once you've given the students the idea of what will be happening, it's time to select an artist. Before doing so, be sure they knew the particular details of this job - you might say something like this:
Once you've done that, you're ready to choose a main artist for your story and perhaps a 1-2 secondary artists for later stories. Give them the following tips in front of the class so that other prospective artists know the criteria:
TIP: Allow your artist to ask clarifying details, but not add new details
Sometimes we will have a great artist that knows when clarifying a detail further will greatly enhance the image. These also provide for additional input with the same detail. However, artists can quickly take control over and derail a story if they're asking about new details that you either haven't asked about yet OR you simply cannot ask about those details for whatever reason. Be sure to invite clarifying questions (how many spots, how big are the spots, what color are the eyes, etc.) but also know when curb these questions with either your own answer, telling the artist it's their decision, or sending the subtle message that those aren't details that need to be added at this time with a simple "I don't know". If your artist doesn't get the message after one or two of those questions, you may consider meeting with them privately after class or choosing another artist.
TIP: Create your character IN ORDER and coach your artist the first few times in English
Called "Question Group A" by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic, asking for these basic details in every story isn't optional and doing so in this order helps set the artist up for success. Each is also aligned with what the artist should draw. During the first few stories, I establish each detail and then tell the artist in English (remember, you are also "coaching" prospective artists) what should go on the paper. This also provides students a quick formative evaluation as the confirm that they understood what you were creating when you tell the artist to draw - you may even have the class fill in the details in English:
TIP: Give your artists a cheat sheet.
This one is entirely optional, but I'm planning on trying it out this year. If I give my artist a basic list of the details I plan on asking then they can anticipate what should/shouldn't be drawn. When we move to stories (including super mini stories), I can also use the cheat sheet to show artists how to lay out the stories and what goes in each box. Here are the cheat sheets I plan on using this year.
TIP: Make a big deal out of the reveal.
This is the magical moment! Don't let anyone see the art until you show it to the entire class at once. Ham it up. Then, once you unveil it, ooh and aww. Take this moment to talk about the art and admire it - lots of opportunities for repeating the details you discussed! Let the art guide the discussion.
TIP: Display artwork on the wall.
Once you're done with your art, display it proudly! There's not a lot of room for these, but I hope to have 1-2 images displayed per class each year. I'm thinking I'll simply layer new images over the old, allowing me to flip back to old images at my convenience.
TIP: After the first story, try out multiple artists at once
I steer away from doing this the first time as I want to really focus attention on the input and the process rather than having a lot of different students more excited about getting to do art than the actual input/creation process. However, once I'm confident that the class is in on the "game", I audition an additional 1-2 artists each story in order to find my best class artists quickly. You'll want to limit the number of artists you are auditioning at once - having a small number allows you to pay more attention to whether your artists are still with you while you are providing input (not all artists can do this) as well as gives you a chance to process all of the art with the class afterward. If there is anyone who really insists they would be a great artist, I let them know I can only keep track of a few people at a time, but I would love to see their art - why don't you draw a picture outside of class to show me? I'll also make sure to invite them to be the main or secondary artist during class time next in an upcoming story. I ensure that my main artist with the butcher paper is one I can count on to create dynamic pictures, but it doesn't really matter how "good" the secondary artists are. Sometimes there's a lot of fun in processing what can sometimes be "abstract" art with pride! As long as I have great class buy in, this can also be an opportunity to send a powerful message about celebrating and valuing everyone's contributions while still ensuring that the main artwork fits the particular "style" you need ass a teacher. (I do have two mini-easels to make these artists feel special as well, although not really necessary.)
How do you prepare your class artists and use their work? Which of these tips do you find most helpful? Are there any you disagree with? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Also, don't forget to check out CI Liftoff and ask Tina Hargaden about The Bite Size Book of Student Artists for more information!
In all the chaos that was my last two years, one of the most profound lessons I learned was the importance of structure. I know there are teachers out there who can plan a lesson on a sticky note and go forth to deliver an amazingly engaging and effective lesson (my supervising teacher during my student teaching was a Comprehensible Input magician). But....
As much as I would like to say that I can walk into a lesson and deliver rich and comprehensible Spanish at the i+1 level while compelling every one of my students to becoming engaged and intently listening, I simply don't have that level of wizardry. Sure, I can wing it with a basic idea of what we're going to be doing and the resources I need, but I often end up frustrated with the amount of CI I was actually able to provide between trying to organize my own thoughts as well as the behaviors of all of my students. It wasn't until I was working at three different schools operating on three different types of rotating block schedules with vastly different students that I realized how much I needed a consistent structure I could count on. It was up to me to put any semblance of consistency back into my life.
Of course, structure isn't only for the teacher. I have a fairly high degree of control over my life - within the boundaries of the "must do's", I get to choose where I'm going to spend my free time, who I will spend it with, when and what I'm going to eat. I have the luxury of choosing who I live with and what is going on in my house. As a professional, I even get to choose how to spend the vast majority of my work day. (Disclaimer: I don't have kids and I realize that affords me a lot more control and luxury than those who do, but even so, as adults we generally have the ability to make decisions that guide our day-to-day and long term activities).
However, students don't have that kind of control over their lives, and many of them are living in chaos. Adults are telling them where to go, what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with, usually on their own schedules and kids have to adjust. They have limited control over the people they spend their time with; even the friends they choose are limited to the community they are in and who will accept them. I would argue that the vast majority of our students have to adjust their lives significantly and without much warning around the lives of the adults and peers in their world. Not to mention the inner chaos - oftentimes, they don't even know why they feel the way they do or when the're going to feel that way! Despite what the movies tell us, I don't know anyone who yearns to return to the "best years of our lives" teenagers. All of this is exponentially more critical for students who live in chaotic, unstable, abusive, and/or poverty-stricken homes - and for the majority of us this is something we must recognize for a large proportion of our students.
While following the same structure each week may seem mundane, especially if you are repeating it many times throughout the day, contextualizing our class within the lives of our students provides a pretty compelling reason to do it for the kids if not for yourself (in my humble opinion).
It's a win-win-win. It's a win for teachers because it cuts down on decision making both in preparation and execution of lessons. You know what the outline looks like and have a menu of things to put in each box - simply select what fits best given your current needs! It's a win for students because they are able to come confident to class knowing what is expected of them and there is a sense of security, predictability, and flow - if just for fifty minutes five days each week. And it's a win for Comprehensible Input because it provides a predictable context to scaffold input and make it even more comprehensible. Transitions, instructions, and directives are easy to give in the target language when the students are already functioning in a familiar and predictable setting.
So, here is my weekly outline for 2018-2019 that provides me enough flexibility within predictability to select the contexts and activities in which I will provide CI and engaging learning experiences. Of course, there are certain times when this will go out the window - I have two weeks set aside each trimester for special culture-specific activities (Day of the Dead, La Navidad, etc.) as well as two weeks set aside for midterm/final reviews and assessments. However, for the remaining "regular units" at all levels can fit into this outline, making lesson planning a breeze. All I have to do is plug and play!
Do you think a predictable weekly structure is/would be beneficial for your students? What would it look like? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
I cannot express how grateful I am to Janet Halbert, Rita Barrett, Tina Hargaden, and Janet Kyung as well as everyone else with Proficiency PDX for the amazing Comprehensible Cascadia conference. Two weeks ago, I entered this conference discouraged and frustrated from my previous year's experience, but I left with excitement and enthusiasm for the year to come. I also cannot wait to share with you some of the amazing insights I learned!
To begin, I have a series of four videos showing an example of scaffolding and documenting input. One of my biggest take-aways from the conference came from Mike Peto who suggested to end everything with the strategy Write and Discuss (credit to Tina Hargaden for this strategy - go buy her book for this and SO much more!). This allows us to do so many things (a more detailed post about each of these coming soon):
As I was discussing using Write and Discuss with Botond, a comprehensible input teacher in Hugary, he was intrigued by this Write and Discuss idea - and I was eager to try it out. He is also familiar with Story Listening (Dr. Beniko Mason), so he also wanted to see how I incorporate it as one strategy among many in my Comprehensible Input classroom. So this morning, we did a mini-unit and debriefed about the process. This unit started with introducing vocabulary with TPR and PQA, a One Word Image, Ask-A-Story, and my adaptation of Story Listening to my classroom. We recorded the entire experience in order to share our collaborative learning with all of you! I would love to hear your thoughts as well - I learn so much from others' feedback and processing of my teaching!
Before viewing the links, I need to add a few disclaimers:
Without further ado, here are the four videos - they can be watched individually in whichever order or all at once, although you'll get the full discussion if you watch all four in order:
I've been a little MIA this year. It's been ten months (and an entire school year) since my last post. I sum, the last two years, and last year specifically, have been pretty rough in terms of both balancing responsibilities (looking at you, PHD program!) as well as trying to prioritize Comprehensible Input in my classroom. To be honest, due to district and administrative demands, Comprehensible Input instruction fell by the wayside as I felt my concerns were met with deaf ears and I tried to align my course with a very grammar- and vocabulary-based curriculum. To be completely honest, I felt very depressed for some time and couldn't even engage with the Comprehensible Input community (much less my own website and resources) without feeling frustration and sadness about my situation.
So, for all of those that have been there, I hear you. It's not as simple as just trying to do what's best for kids when it's at odds with external demands.
Two years ago and with my previous district, I had the privilege of completing my administrative internship with a world-class educational leader. Among the many words of wisdom she shared with me were these: Do your best to meet the expectations of your administrators while still advocating for things that should be changed or improved. If you've done that, though, and it becomes a situation that you cannot be happy in, smile and do your best, get a good letter of recommendation, and then move on.
I can say I did the best I could with the knowledge and skills at the time, although I also learned a LOT. There are many things I would do again. I think there are more things I would do differently if I had to do it all over again. Ultimately, leaving this district was a mutual decision. Of course, while difficult, I took many valuable experiences from these past two years that will influence my own approaches and perspectives.
The good news is, a relatively nearby district was looking for exactly everything that my previous district and I separated over! While the month in between determining that a parting of ways would be best with my previous district and getting the job offer in my new district was one of the most difficult and stressful in my life, I am SO excited to be joining my new district. The department chair is very experienced in TPRS and while the department as a whole isn't as experienced with CI/TPRS, they are on board for the boat travelling in that direction. One major step? They haven't used a textbook in years. They also sent me and two of my World Language co-workers to Comprehensible Cascadia a few weeks ago - talk about putting your money where your mouth is!
So, all that said, I am BACK! And Comprehensible Cascadia has re-energized me for teaching (and in JUNE, no less!). I am excited to be collaborating with my CI colleagues once again and cannot wait to share my experiences and resources with all of you throughout the year. Here we come 2018-2019!
Dr. Beniko Mason
Dr. Stephen Krashen
Dr. Krashen's Blog
Watch Tina Teach!
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