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.
I first learned about interactive notebooks during my pre-service training and loved the idea. However, I never quite figured out how to make it work for me as a teacher or for Comprehensible Input instruction, where I don't want my students writing down notebooks all the time. However, with my new plan to end everything we do with a Write and Discuss (coming by way of suggestion from Mike Peto), a clear and purposeful plan clicked. Just in time, too - my new school is an AVID school so interactive notebooks are a regular part of instruction. I've been working on an example notebook complete with all of the supporting documents, and I'm ready to share my draft* with you!!
Please note that my interactive notebook design is slightly modified from what a "true" interactive notebook is, but maintains many of the principals particularly for our daily documentation of learning (the Write and Discuss section). I am also attending a Jump Start conference for National Board certification as well as meeting with my colleagues in the upcoming weeks, so it may undergo additional revisions as things get fine-tuned for the 2018-2019 school year.
Why and When we will use the IN
I mainly want their notebook to be a resource which answers the question "What did I learn?". It will show the material for a particular day and their mastery of it as well as their progress over time. Any other activities they are welcome to keep in their notebook in the back, but I am only concerned about the items I want them to come back to throughout the year, including reviewing their progress and accomplishments.
This means there are only certain times which I allow students to use their notebooks or even have them out. For the vast majority of class, I want them to focus on being present and comprehending input. However, I hope that by routinely dedicating the last 10 minutes of class to write and discuss with our Interactive Notebooks, students also know they will have plenty of time to write down any notes they wish. The only other times they will need their notebooks are when they are evaluating and documenting their learning, which will usually happen during specific proficiency activities.
With that being said, the main items in my notebooks (with a more detailed break down below) include:
I have 30% of my gradebook set aside for "Classwork and Activities", most of which will come from items in their IN. Everything in the IN is going to be graded on completion as part of students' daily formative assessments - this means it's information for me to adjust instruction before the summative assessment of what they achieved. I want students to get comfortable doing their best and honestly evaluating and discussing their progress. If they know that items in the IN are graded on quality of completion, it will send a signal that lowers their affective filter and gives them permission to just do their best and not worry about anything else for a moment. I am going to review their progress each day (see the procedure in the next paragraph) to see what adjustments need to be made or conversations need to be had in order to get them where they need to be.
This policy fits in with the least amount of work for me as well. As students are working in their IN, I can easily move around the room and stamp/check off pages that have received full credit (or that are done enough that I trust will be worthy of full credit). I plan to check off the items on my student tracker and grading sheet as well as give them a stamp on their notebook page so they know it was checked and recorded as full credit. Anything that is less than full credit, I write a small score in the top left corner of the page so they know they still have some work to do if they want more points, but I did check it. Anything that doesn't get recorded in class, they leave open to the page that needs to be check and turn their notebooks in to the basket. I finish recording them and put them in their hand-back folder for them to retrieve the following day.
Students are going to give themselves a self-evaluation each day to let me know what's going on.
Items included in my IN
The spiral notebook will go in the front pocket or clipped into the front if students prefer. However, unless you get a large binder (which I don't want), having the notebook clipped in makes turning pages impossible, so I prefer it to be in the front pocket.
Do you use interactive notebooks in your comprehensible input classes? What do you include and why? Are there things you choose not to include? Share your thoughts below!
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!
First, I identify "helpful" words (words that will increase story comprehension, but there is no goal to master/learn these specific words - the goal is to comprehend the overall story) and do TPR with them before the story. I don't mind having a large list - some of these words are review and most of the words will be easily understood in context with the story, actions, drawing, and writing on the board to help. This just breaks down some of that process so that students can focus more on the story while it's being told. I plan on doing TPR with these words a day before I actually tell the story (and they're high frequency, so I'll be using them anyway) and then reviewing right before the story to help prevent students getting mentally exhausted. I really want them to focus on enjoying the story when I tell it.
Prior to telling the story, I briefly discuss the title, setting, main characters, and basic conflict to students in English. This was an explicit recommendation from my ELA colleague. Not only does it build anticipation for what the story is about, but it scaffolds the story for students who might have more difficulty with listening comprehension (in general, not just in their second language). When students have a general idea of what they're listening for and what the story is generally about, I believe they're able to feel more confident (and therefore motivated) about understanding the story as well as hone in on important details without getting caught up on what they might be a little confused about. Remember, we're mainly talking about those kids that really, really struggle with reading and listening comprehension here no matter what language it's in.
Some students will benefit from graphic organizers for various reasons. This was another explicit recommendation from my ELA colleague. Some students who struggle with listening comprehension will benefit from having a concrete item to keep track of what they're comprehending and how it fits together. Other students simply feel better having it. As long as it doesn't interfere with comprehending the story, why should I deny them this resource? Of course, that means I need to be REALLY clear about what the graphic organizer is for and what I expect them to do because putting a paper in students' hands may lead them to treat the story like traditional school and focus on mastery rather than simply comprehending and enjoying the story. Here is my STORY graphic organizer that I use, inspired by this one developed for fiction story texts in ELA. I plan on telling students that comprehending and enjoying is the goal, so eventually I would like to help everyone get to the point that they don't need the graphic organizer. However, it's there just in case you feel like you need it. If you're understanding the story just fine, though, leave it alone. I will probably show students the reaction questions (below) so they know how they're being "evaluated" - or rather, how they're evaluating me and the story. I should note, too, that I plan on handing this out to everyone before the story in order to avoid calling attention to students who need it to help them follow the story. (An added benefit of using this particular graphic organizer is that it was inspired by ELA fiction text structure organizers, so you can check off the "Connections" standard box for the day!).
Next, I tell the story! For my novice and beginner stories, I divide my board up into squares that match the reading (below) and draw each scene in the square that corresponds with the reading. Like Dr. Mason, I write the Spanish and English on the board, but erase the English immediately and just leave the Spanish. Also like Dr. Mason, I elaborate and add details as needed to reinforce an illustrate the ideas - you will see this best by comparing the video of me telling the story to the reading afterward. The basic idea is that you communicate the same idea a number of ways, giving students more opportunities to understand what is happening while also providing rich and varied input. I draw my pictures (mine aren't very good, but they get the job done) and do a lot of acting with my body to illustrate what I am telling students. One of my own adaptations is the idea of "recycling", from TPRS, where I retell the entire story up to the current moment at certain points (where those points are depend on the story and the class). I may also ask for a thumbs up or down midway through to make sure I'm being comprehensible - sometimes I think I am but I'm not, so this gives me a chance to reset and salvage the story if needed. As I get more confident in my SL skills, I may eliminate this check.
Immediately after the story, I have students write a reaction. Their reaction is very open and could be any of the following - this year, I'm going to as for a one-paragraph response (5 sentences) and let my students choose which question(s) they want to respond to based on their experience: What was your favorite part of the story? What is something you would change about the story? What would you add to the story? What is something that helped you understand the story? What is something that made it hard to understand the story? (I may add/change this list over time). This is a quick exit ticket and achieves a few things: First, it gives me a quick glimpse into how I did. Thoughtful responses to the first three questions show me that students comprehended the story enough to evaluate it. That's pretty high up there on Bloom's taxonomy and shows evidence of higher level thinking. If students are answering these questions well, then we're doing great! The last two questions explicitly give students the opportunity to tell me what I'm doing well or need to improve on. If these are the questions that resonate with students, particularly if there's something that made it hard to understand the story, I know that I need to make some adjustments and even have some recommendations on what those adjustments should be. Finally, I am going to ask students to rate the story itself on a scale of 1-5. Was it one they enjoyed? Should I tell more stories like this? Should I use it for future students? Assuming students understood the story, this will help me know which types of stories resonate with particular classes and assist me in choosing future stories.
Then, I'm going to let the story rest for a day. A friend of mine is using the Waldorf method for homeschooling her children, which also uses story methods, and told me about how the method emphasizes incubation. Tell a story, and then let it sit and process for a day or two. From my own education and experience, this makes a lot of sense and has a lot of other benefits - by just telling the story, students can focus on enjoying it and not having to worry about what they're going to do with it later. It also gives me a chance to repeat the story and show students what they did learn. Finally, it ultimately gives me more time to work with a story since we're doing it in shorter chunks spread out over time. My plan this year is to let the story rest and move on to something else after completing the above steps. Then, a day or two later, I will put up our visual of the story (don't forget to take a picture of your board! This is a student job in my class) and retell it in a simple, straightforward way while pointing to the images students are already familiar with (I'm a big believer in using the same pictures for this particular retell, even if better ones are available. It will help students recall the details better since they're associated with those particular images). After retelling the story, I'll have students do a verbal retell in English (particularly helpful if a student was gone during the original story). Then, we can move to reading the story. I use a this format for reading so that students can connect what they're reading with the images we drew on the board. It also allows me to use the boxes for a variety of activities - what do I want students to put in the boxes - drawings, text, or...? Also, we can cut these apart and use them for ordering and matching activities.
At this point, I can do whatever activities I would typically do with a One Word Image, Super Mini Story, or a TPRS story. Are we going to act it out? Read it? How? There are so many options here, and what we do will depend on the individual class and story. But, now we've got a new resource!
Must teachers be 100% comprehensible? Is there room for noise? And, if so, what amount or type of noise is acceptable?
First, here are a few comments from this article, The Case for Non-Targeted Input (Krashen, 2013)
"For an item of grammar to be acquired, the language acquirer must be ready to acquire the item. It must, in other words, be at the acquirers' i+1, where i = aspects of grammar that were most recently acquired."
"An important corollary of the Comprehension Hypothesis is the "Net" Hypothesis: Given enough comprehensible input, i+1, all the vocabulary and structures the student is ready for, is automatically provided. In Krashen and Terrell (1983) this was referred to as the Net: "When someone talks to you in a language you have not yet completely acquired so that you understand what is said, the speaker "casts a net" of structure around your current level of competence, your "i". This net will include many instances of i+1, aspects of language you are ready to acquire" (p. 33)."
"Ray and Seely (2008) emphasize the importance of translation because they feel that students must understand every word of what is said in class and what they read. As noted earlier, this may indeed be very helpful at the very beginning, but the transparency requirement should give way to the requirement that students feel that they are understanding everything. If only the feeling of full comprehension is required, if input is allowed to contain some i+n, we are no longer restricted to translation as a means of making input comprehensible. We are free to use pictures and realia, as emphasized in Natural Approach (see also comments by Carol Gaab in Ray and Seely, p. 235), as well as other means of making input comprehensible that do not obviously provide a one-to-one mapping from form to meaning (e.g. background readings that provide a general context for a story). If, in fact, the input is truly compelling, it is likely that students will not even notice the "noise" or bits of incomprehensible and nontransparent elements in the input."
I believe there is a difference between "total translatability" and "total comprehensibility" (I dislike the word "transparency" because I think it is confusing and could apply to either case).
Total translatability - students have a one-to-one connection for each and every word. This limits what you can communicate to students as well as the intention of communicating it: the emphasis is on learning forms, not on understanding messages.
Total comprehensibility - I'm beginning to think that acceptable "noise" does not come in the form of incomprehensibility, but rather that the meaning of words that would be incomprehensible on their own are made clear through other methods. For instance, when Diane Neubauer told us the story about the Zodiac, there was a part where the rat jumped over the ox's head. Had she focused on us understanding the words in that part of the story, it would have been overwhelming as well as disrupted the flow of the story - we were right at the climax and focused on what was happening, so it would have been much less compelling (not to mention out of bounds) to sit and focus on the somewhat more-complex language involved in communicating that idea. However, we completely comprehended that very critical part and kept the "flow" of the language going thanks to her gestures. We learned plenty in the process - and she could still use that story for valuable input (as opposed to being "barred" from an otherwise comprehensible story because a key part would have been "out of bounds"). This still counts as noise, however, because I didn't make any connections with the actual target language and couldn't have told you what the words were, even just after hearing her say them. And, frankly, I didn't care - I understood the message and wanted to hear the rest of the story! They key is that the message was, in fact, 100% comprehensible even if it did include noise, which was important because it lowered my affective filter and kept me in "flow". In other words, I didn't get stressed about trying to achieve a deeper level of comprehension than I was ready for nor was I stressed that there were details I was missing, because I felt confident that I had comprehended the entire message.
With regard to i+1 - there have been a few that say if everything is "100% comprehensible", then it is not providing the "+1". However, this position confuses what is acquired with what can be understood. It is important to understand that "i" is NOT what can be understood - it is what is already acquired, meaning that it can be used by the student. The "+1" is the language that is not yet acquired but can be understood (and therefore has the potential to be acquired). This area of "+1" is very broad and flexible as it contains all of the language that can be made comprehensible. For instance, novice students who have never been exposed to the target language before, have zero "i"; thus, the entire first lesson (or series of lessons) are all within the "+1" range. As students acquire "i" from the "+1" input, their ability to comprehend additional "+1" expands, although much of the language that was "+1" will remain "+1". This is why I agree with Krashen (2013) that non-targeted language is ideal for differentiation - students convert the "+1" into "i" at different rates according to the natural order, but as long as students are provided with a "Net" of language that includes "+1" for all students, all students will be able to continue acquiring the language they are ready for at their own pace .
With regard to noise, I don't think that "noise" can be acquired - the grammar and vocabulary from the language used MUST be made comprehensible before acquisition of that particular form can occur. In my above example with the Zodiac story, I had no chance of acquiring the structure for "jump over" because I never really even wrapped my head around the target language words in the first place. However, that was not a bad thing - in fact, it enabled Diane to tell a compelling story while staying "in bounds" and keeping the affective filter low. I believe that teachers need to skillfully judge and plan how they will tell a story knowing that the majority should be comprehensible at an level which students can acquire it, but be able to bridge these sections with tiny bits of comprehensible noise (if that makes sense) in order to make up for bits of language that might be beyond the "+1" level yet are still necessary to be compelling.
So, to answer my initial questions:
YES, teachers MUST be 100% comprehensible - meaning that students feel that they are comprehending everything. Some misunderstandings will occur - that's fine. That is part of language development and their understandings will become refined as they receive more input (also noted in Krashen, 2013). This keeps the affective filter low as students become comfortable and confident about comprehending messages, forgetting to focus on individual words and whether they can translate them.
YES, there is room for noise, but it must be comprehensible noise that is strategically used only when necessary. In other words, the messages must remain comprehensible even if the language is not. Moreover, teachers need to use their best judgement in order to maximize the amount of "+1" at a level that is possible for students to acquire. Yet, they should not feel constrained to only providing input that is at the "+1" level - comprehensible noise can be used as a tool to help students access input opportunities that might be otherwise compelling and comprehensible for students.
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!
I have some students in my regular class (about 40 hours of instruction so far) who are VERY low - as in, out of thirty students, all but three will highlight that at least 95% of the story (indicating they understand it when we read it), and three will highlight about 10% of the story. When I've spoken to their other teachers, they struggle with focusing their attention and retaining information in their regular classes as well. Many of them have low English reading skills and/or low motivation. In any case, I just haven't reached them yet the way I would like to and I'm afraid they're getting left behind by the rest of the class.
This month, my "professional goal" is to meet these kids where they need me. Here are a few of the ideas I've come up with, but I'm also curious to hear your thoughts.
One strategy I'm experimenting is by using the videos of my instruction. Not only am I recording their stories from class and putting them on my YouTube channel (my kids think having a YouTube channel is so cool haha), but I'm also including the reading and a carefully chosen set of Quizlet flash cards that parents/students can practice.
In addition, I just started teaching novice students (0 hours of previous instruction) and am telling them a novice version of the stories ahead of telling my regular class their more intermediate version. I'm encouraging students who might want/need some extra practice and support to pre-listen to these easier versions of the story to understand the basic problem, characters, storyline, and vocabulary that they'll hear in their in-class version of the story (on the condition that they'll still pay attention when I tell it and won't spoil the story for others). These include the reading and flash cards as well. My hope is that by scaffolding the story this way, they'll increase their comprehension level, get more meaningful input, and I will still be able to tell the more difficult versions of the stories that the rest of the class is ready for.
Here are some other ideas that one of our excellent ELA/SPED teachers suggested after I described Story Listening to her (I'm still processing whether and how I would use them; these could be whole-group or small group) - she pointed out that typical students need 40 or more exposures to something to understand it and use it in a new way; students with learning challenges or exceptional needs can need twice that exposure to comprehend. Thus, these activities are aimed toward increasing that exposure in order to comprehend words in new contexts (PLEASE NOTE - I know that these do not lead to acquisition. Acquisition isn't my goal; rather, I would be using these strategies to increase comprehension of the input so that the stories are more comprehensible and effective for acquisition - perhaps think of these as "practical preliminary steps" in order to provide quality CI for all of my students given the particular challenges and demands of teaching in K-12 public schools) :
Interventions for students who are not comprehending the stories in the first place:
Interventions for students who are understanding the story, but are not transferring what they hear to what they read, whether in context or when applying to new contexts (in addition to providing more auditory input):
I think I will explore using the graphic organizer and pre-teaching in the coming weeks, although I will have to re-arrange my class activities to do small groups. As a secondary teacher, this seems a bit daunting - but I have to give it the good ol' college try! If I can pull it off and my students are able to comprehend (and therefore acquire) more, then it's absolutely worth it.
Look at how awesome this is!!
My friend did Story Listening for her VERY FIRST lesson ever! She's not even in front of kids yet - this was for the other future teachers in her class and is designed to be a 15-minute "sample". Here's how we developed her lesson:
First, she watched my Story Listening session (the one about the volcanoes). Then, she picked a story she thought would be interesting to tell, a Curious George book. She thought about how to tell the story in comprehensible Spanish. Then, we simplified it to be as easy as possible. After narrowing down the story to a single problem and a single way to solve the problem, we also adjusted the story to make use of as many proper nouns and cognates as possible. This story is the result.
I wanted to share this (with her permission) because A) she rocks my socks and is going to be an AWESOME teacher, B) look, we're getting more fresh CI teachers!, and c) I thought it might be helpful to use as a model for getting started in CI with minimal (in this case zero) teaching experience. I'm hoping this is simple and easy enough that a novice teacher could walk in and confidently teach through CI!
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