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.
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!
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!
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