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.
Someone recently asked about how much time I plan my lessons, especially now that I'm working to differentiate for my classes. While it may look like a lot of work, my lesson planning is even easier and more enjoyable than ever before. Here's what I do:
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:
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:
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.
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!
Teachers like strategies. We keep lists of them. Nearly every teacher has owned (and likely still owns) books of strategies on top of the lists of strategies they've developed themselves that they like to use. And when we sit around a table and talk, strategies are often the topic of conversation. How did you do this or that? How did it work? How could I try it in my room?
Strategies often come in the form of a pre-packaged "method", which includes research-based approach along with clear design and procedure for using in class (Richards, 1986). In other words, research says _____ increases student learning, so we're going to do that by doing A and B, and the expected outcome is C. A "method" can form an entire curriculum or even set the context for a school (i.e. "Montessori method" or "Suzuki method").
Methods are nice - they tell teachers "we've done the research and the work to make you a tool - go take it and teach!" It allows teachers to focus on their immediate classroom needs. The trouble with teaching by methods, however, is that teachers are limited to the artificial walls created by whoever designed the method. If teachers only understand the methods and then hold themselves to the methods, two problems arise: First, they miss opportunities to meet the needs of their students which might be served by a different method that they have either rejected or are not familiar with. This leads to the second problem, where teachers modify the method in order to meet the needs of their students. However, this modification can fundamentally alter the method to a point where it is no longer achieving the goals intended. They may be achieving some goal, but it's like the game of "telephone" - the end result is often some sort of message, but it isn't the original message that was intended. While this might seem good on the surface (look! He's learning better now!), it is problematic because the "original message" was research-based and the final message received is not. Thus, we may no longer be teaching with "research-based" methods. Obviously, the researchers did not work with our kids and adjustments will always need to be made - this is why we hire professionals to lead our classrooms. So, how can we know that our real-life decisions in the classroom are really what is best for our students beyond a set methodology?
We must transcend the methods.
In other words, we need to take a step back and ask what principles make a particular method useful, and how can we apply those principles as we adapt our instructions to the students we have in our classroom and the needs of our circumstances (including your own teaching preferences)? We need to look at the research itself and understand its implications at a deep level. It's helpful to become familiar with methods based upon the research to understand some examples of application to the classroom while still understanding that most research looks at the nuts and bolts of learning rather than prescribing certain methodologies.
Moreover, we need to use this research to evaluate every method or strategy that we might employ. This not only includes taking a critical look at any pre-designed methods, but it also breaks down those artificial walls to allow teachers to create new methods based on the needs of their students while adhering to research on student learning.
So, how do we do this?
First, we have to understand the principles established by extensive research. These are at the core of our teaching philosophy, and so each teacher must carefully research, consider, and eventually adopt the principles they feel are most appropriate for their classroom. Although we should come to some consensus about what these principles are, teachers teaching by someone else's principles that they do not fully understand and endorse will likely lead to a misapplication of the principles and ineffective teaching.
In the short-term, a teacher who is only ready to teach by methods can "borrow" principles, as we implicitly do each time that we agree to use a method. Moreover, principles should be constantly reviewed and adjusted based on new learning - both in the world of research and in the teacher's own professional development.
I am working on a post which more fully articulates the following principles that I have developed for my own instruction (second language acquisition), but here is a brief summary:
Once we have these principles, we can explore, modify, and create endless methods while ensuring they are still firmly grounded in our instructional philosophies and principles. As I explore new ways to reach my students, I apply the following questions based on my established principles:
The answers to these questions give the why (or why not!) to every decision we make regarding instruction (and, yes, classroom management deserves its own list as well!). This is so empowering! So why is it not a regular practice? I am guessing that it's because teachers are fed pre-packaged methods from the time they decide to become teachers. Rather than asking new teachers to explore educational practices on a deeper level and develop and evaluate methods, we like to give them the tools to hit the ground running, and rightfully so.
Novice teachers usually do not have the experience, expertise, or even the capacity to engage in this deeper-level thinking - even educators must work their way up Bloom's Taxonomy in their practice, both in scope and in depth. They are not focused on "practice" as much as they are focused on "tomorrow" or even "next period". Their main objectives are to remember their lesson plan (which they may or may not have been able to create on their own), understand what it is they're trying to do, and applying it to the classroom. Hopefully, they able to analyze the results (this usually comes with time), and eventually begin evaluating their lessons to create new lessons that are more efficient.*
As we learn and grow, however, not only are obligated as professionals to not only move toward the upper tiers of Bloom's taxonomy, but we must also expand the scope of our vision and begin to look at practice. Transcending the methods requires us to analyze and evaluate the practices themselves, and then effectively create new ones, both through modification and invention, that address the needs of our students and circumstances (which include the needs of the teacher!). We cannot do that unless we let go of methods and teach by principles.
*Although new teachers might not be able to effectively develop effective principles at the beginning of their career, I think it is a great shame that they are mainly trained to focus on the methods rather than looking for the principles behind them. Doing so facilitates a culture of "tunnel vision" where teachers may not even realize there is a need to eventually transcend the methods, and it takes trial and error for experienced teachers to eventually learn to do so for themselves.
Herman, E. (2016). Acquisition classroom memo 4.
Richards, J.C., & Rodgers, T.S. (1986). The nature of approaches and methods in language teaching. In J.C. Richards & Rodgers, T.S. (Ed.), Approaches and methods in language teaching: A description and analysis (pp. 14-29). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Note to the reader:
For the last three weeks, I've been trying out Story Listening for the first time in my classes. I was struggling with the Story Asking as we would get stuck, I had trouble choosing details that kept everyone engaged, and many of my students were getting lost in the chaos or frustrated with the "flow" of the story. My "low" kids weren't understanding what was happening. My "high" kids wanted to keep moving. And my "easily distracted" kids were off in their world. I wouldn't say it was a hot mess, but it was close. The kids were learning, but I didn't feel like we were going anywhere fast and I was frustrated and exhausted. I'll readily admit that there are people more talented at "Asking a Story" than I am - but it just hasn't really ever "clicked" for me. So, after a particularly rough first period, I decided I would let myself off the hook and simply tell a story to the next class. I knew I had to pick something interesting, and the first thing that came to my mind was "La Llorona". I found a quick summary of the story online to refresh my memory, printed it out, and "told" it. Despite the minimal preparation, it was a hit! I didn't do any drawing - I just put the words they needed help with on the board with the English translation. After that, I pre-drew my pictures and vocabulary and told the story of "La Llorona" to my remaining classes with the pictures under the projector. After each class, I asked the students to show me how they felt about the activity by holding up fingers. A "3" meant they learned about the same, a "1" meant they learned a lot less, and a "5" meant they learned a lot more. Even with my minimal understanding of Story Listening and almost no practice, every student in every class rated the activity as a "4" or a "5"! I was sold! I've made a number of adjustments since that first week and would like to share my "beginners guide" to getting started with Story Listening.
First, it's very important to understand exactly what Story Listening is and is not. It is not simply storytelling. Storytelling puts the emphasis on what the teacher is doing and will likely not meet the acquisition needs of students, whereas Story Listening is focused on the person who is listening to the story and responsive to what they need. In order for story listening to be effective, the following conditions must be met:
It is also helpful to understand the potential similarities and differences between Story Listening and other methods of CI Instruction. NOTE: I use the word "potential" because CI instruction can take many forms. Almost all language teachers agree that we must actually use the language for students to learn it. In some cases, this takes the form of stating sentences that the students understand. Most traditional classes use the language in order to give instructions, although this use is incidental to the "real" instruction (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, worksheets, comprehension questions, etc. taking place.) For this particular list of similarities and differences, I'm going to narrow the list to items that differ between Story Listening and other methods that are grounded in the idea that the instruction itself should be through CI and focused on meaning and proficiency rather than skills and vocabulary. Even here, however, we find a lot of variance in how teachers instruct and the strategies they use, and and almost strategy has the potential to be used similarly or differently than the strategies employed in Story Listening.
Potential Differences: (many of these items overlap, so I apologize for any repetition)
Finally, I'd like to touch on a few differences in my personal preference for various strategies:
So, if you'd like to get started with Story Listening, here are a few tips from my personal experience:
Good luck with your Story Listening! I would love to hear from more teachers trying this in their classrooms and will continue to post videos regularly of my own.
This is a follow up to my post The New and Improved FVR Program.
Well that was interesting....
Give a kid assigned reading, and they do what they have to to get the assignment done (maybe).
Eliminate the homework and give a kid time in class to read with options and support, and they check out books to take home.
That about summarizes my experience this week. It was magic!
Context: These students have had approx. 70 minutes of Spanish every other class day for 2.5 months. I assigned reading as homework three weeks ago (30 minutes), but eliminated all homework this time and decided instead to give students structured free-reading time during class with options for various materials, levels, and scaffolding by working with partners, in groups, or individually (see below for more details). Then, I said "go".
Yesterday, a future Spanish teacher was subbing in the room across from mine. Her kids were at lunch, so I invited her over to see what was happening in my room. The reading time was well under way. I asked her the most important question in education, "How do you know they're learning?"
She looked at them for a moment, and then said, "Because they're doing it?"
YES! It seemed so simple, too obvious to be the right answer. But, glancing around my room, I could see students demonstrating sustained focused on a page to read it, and then turning the pages when appropriate. Students were reading the books out loud to their partners. Students were laughing and reacting to the information in the books. Some students were switching from materials that were too hard or not interesting to materials that better fit their needs. Everywhere, it was very obvious that the kids were DOING IT. They were READING. So then I asked, "If I know they're learning, then do I need to give them a quiz, test, or some other form of assessment to know that they're learning?" NO! I already know that they are learning. Their behavior IS the assessment, and it doesn't take a trained teacher to know that some awesome learning was happening in there.
Oh yeah, and no fewer than 7 students asked to check out items from me this week, even though they have access to all of them online. In fact, I had a sub on Thursday, and on Friday two girls approached me with books in their hands. They apologized because they "accidentally" took the books home with them, but I could tell from their body language that they didn't want to give them back. So, I asked if they'd like to check them out, and they were so excited! My library is getting smaller and smaller.....
Here is how I structure reading in my classroom:
First, I explained to students the intention of the structured reading activity: I want to help them feel successful reading and find something they enjoy reading, so much that it inspires them to keep reading on their own simply because they want to, not because anyone is forcing them to. I also explained that this might take a while for them, so don't expect it to happen today or even this trimester. As they learn more language, they'll find it easier and easier to read and I will keep working to find something they enjoy. I posted Bryce Hedstrom's poster "How to choose reading material" and briefly went over it with them. I plan on educating them about effective reading for 2-3 minutes each time we do Free Reading.
I assigned some Reader Leaders ahead of time and gave them instructions on how to conduct a reading group and model effective reading and troubleshooting. These were students that already have high reading ability (based on my formative benchmark assessments, which I've created by adapting Eric Herman's speed readings) AND who I felt would be good leaders. I assigned each of them a three-chapter segment of Eric Herman's "Ataques de Hambre" - I chose this book because the students already know the fairy tales and three chapters to a story is less intimidating than a whole book, so it was like a "gateway" to novel reading.
I gave students the options of reading alone or in the groups led by my Reader Leaders. Most students chose to join a group - I found it was best to limit the groups to only 4-5 students (including the leader), smaller for groups that might have trouble focusing (which included, not coincidentally, my lowest readers). There are some students who are on my private "must read with a group" list, but nearly all students chose to read with a group anyway so I didn't have to ask them to do so.
For students not reading in the groups I gave them access to my extensive class library of Fluency Fast and TPRS novels (I only put out my Nov-Low and Nov-Intermediate novels, and then personally invited my advanced students to select from my higher-level novels if they would like to), embedded readings of stories they've already heard in class (one group of three ladies chose these), the "benchmark assessment" readings (Some REALLY wanted to keep passing off stories all period), and access to a Google Drive folder (no one used these - they all preferred hard copies since they were available) where I have more short stories for novice readers, "Mundo en tus Manos" from Martina Bex, and some other resources. I also introduced my highest readers to Newsela. I've reserved the computer lab for all of our future reading days so that students don't have to use their devices to access these materials. I plan to continue observing what students choose to read (including what they put down and pick up throughout the period) and tailoring my library according to their decisions.
In one sentence, Compelling Comprehensible Input is when students listen to or read messages in the target language at a level that students understand, and the messages are so interesting that students are compelled to understand.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is student-driven - the messages communicated and the language used is chosen based on what will be compelling for students, not what a curriculum, textbook, or teacher decides is “needed”. The kids literally become the curriculum as teachers set up and guide comprehensible input experiences centered on what students find compelling.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is loving - It accepts and validates students both academically, socially, and individually. Academically, students are taught at a level which matches their current abilities and comfort zone, and there is no pressure to do any better or worse or more or less as long as they are comprehending compelling messages. Socially, students are given free reign to interact with one another and their teacher to create a class culture and environment that supports every student. Individually, student input and interests are valued and incorporated as the instruction centers on what students wish to discuss.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is fun and engaging - As teachers and students dive into using the language to communicate messages that are compelling, the experience is naturally rewarding and pleasurable. Teachers and students genuinely enjoy creating and communicating together so much that they want class to continue past the bell and often share the stories and discussions with others outside of class time.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is meaningful and motivating - Both the messages discussed with students and the experience itself are meaningful for students. Students are intrinsically motivated to participate because the information is so compelling, and they forget that they are learning a language. Yet, when the experience is over, they realize that they successfully navigated the experience in the language that they are learning and they are able to apply what they learned to new and authentic contexts, showing evidence and practicality of their learning. This pleasurable success reinforces how meaningful the class is to them and motivates them to continually engage themselves in future experiences.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is flexible and freeing - Anything that is compelling and comprehensible for students is fair game to use. Only a general idea and lesson structure are necessary to get a lesson going, and the students run with the language from there. Oftentimes, the “lesson plan” may evolve and change as students become engaged in shaping what is meaningful and compelling to discuss. Compelling Comprehensible Input not only leaves space for this to happen, but enthusiastically encourages this type of organic language experience. Since there are no hidden agendas about what language should be learned, everything is gained and nothing is lost or missed when this happens.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is honest - There are no hidden agendas when communicating compelling input. The messages are not selected based on teaching a specific grammatical form nor a vocabulary list. The messages are simply compelling, and all of the language that students need is provided through the rich and understandable language used to communicate them.
Compelling Comprehensible Input is simple and easy- Neither students nor teachers have to worry about whether students learn specific vocabulary or grammar targets. They don’t have to worry whether students have learned what they need to. Teachers only need to focus on whether the information is compelling and comprehensible, and students only need to focus on listening or reading with the intent to understand and letting the teacher know if they don’t understand. If this is occurring, language acquisition will happen with no intentional effort or studying.
Finally, Compelling Comprehensible Input is all that language learners need - Many classrooms do not use Comprehensible Input or they use it along with a variety of other strategies in order to help students “learn” a language. However, an impressive body of research, both completed and ongoing, shows that pure Compelling Comprehensible Input is both more efficient AND more effective than any other instructional approach (SOURCE). Teachers and students can take confidence and find reassurance in the fact that that comprehending compelling messages is all that students need in order to acquire the language and develop proficiency at all levels.
This last item warrants shouting from the rooftops over and over, but I’ll just say it again here:
Compelling Comprehensible Input is all that language learners need and it is both more efficient and effective than any other instructional approach.
Let’s discuss this for a moment. This means that the following instructional activities become unnecessary and even disadvantageous: grammar instruction and drills, vocabulary lists and exercises, output (speaking and writing), comprehension questions, drilling, repeating, corrective feedback, and any other conscious learning process. (For more research on this, see Chris Stolz's research page).
It is important to note that the results of instruction through Compelling Comprehensible Input are qualitatively different than other methods and so cannot be measured the same way. Traditionally, language acquisition has been measured through the completion of isolated language tasks such as translating sentences, vocabulary tests, verb conjugation, etc. These almost always require conscious effort to recall and apply explicit rules and information to communicating in the target language. The assumption is that by learning the skills, students will eventually be able to communicate. However, these types of activities do not reflect real and authentic communication and so do not translate to real-world skills and proficiency. In order to successfully apply skills to real-world scenarios, language learners must know the rule, be thinking about the rule, and have time to apply the rule (SOURCE: Krashen Keynote). Unfortunately, these conditions are usually only met in artificial classroom environments. In authentic conversations, participants usually have an extremely limited amount of time to comprehend, process, and respond and would be focused on the conversation rather than the linguistics used to form individual words, phrases, and sentences. Moreover, most people simply don’t care about the language and rules in the first place - they simply want to be able to communicate and understand meaning.
With Compelling Comprehensible Input. By understanding compelling and comprehensible input in the language, the students subconsciously acquire the skills in order to develop proficiency. Moreover, the students develop these skills along the unalterable natural order of acquisition at their own unalterable pace. Because the skills are subconsciously acquired and we cannot control the order nor the pace that they are acquired, it would be unfair to mandate that students learn specific language patterns along a set course or timeline, nor would it be fair to hold teachers accountable for student mastery of those patterns. Moreover, the most important vocabulary for students to learn is the vocabulary that is meaningful, compelling, and useful to them, which cannot be appropriately covered using a predetermined list from a textbook. Through Compelling Comprehensible Input, students are continuously exposed to both the vocabulary and grammar that they need in a contextualized manner that is interesting, fun, pleasure, and more efficient and effective than any other way. The product of such instruction is natural and authentic holistic language proficiency.
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