Note: I’m coaching a Chinese teacher on the Invisibles. Here are some questions that she asked. They cover more than Chinese instruction, so even if you don’t teach Chinese you may want to give this a quick read, if you are doing the Invisibles and already have some inclination of what Category A is about:
Q: Should we limit the amount of language, since Chinese has few cognates?
A: Choosing cognates can be good to a certain point. Linda Li is big on cognates. But in my opinion the real answer is to just go really slowly and make yourself understood, cognates or not. You will be limiting the amount of words in Cat. A to an extreme degree. That’s why we start the Invisibles process off with Card Talk, that and making sure we can put in the classroom management piece strongly right away, which would not be possible with Categories B or C . Our work is about being authentic and speaking to our students in a completely natural way, and not stilted. When we do that, we align with the research. So, my advice is to not try to use a lot of cognates, but to just speak naturally and ultra-slowly (easy for them but painfully slow for you).
Q: How do you rearrange all the facts of the tableau as you work your way through the Cat. A questioning levels?
A: The best thing is to write them down in the top middle of the whiteboard as they occur. You are actually doing Phase 3 when you do this. For example, the questions that you ask about the card you are working with might result in:
Henry plays the violin in the winter in Canada with a giant….
This information is as much as you would ever get from a Category A student card. So why not write this information down on the board as a contiguous paragraph as it is gleaned? Write the English below the TL. This is a good way to make sure that the tableau created from the card is clear in the minds of the students. Then when you process the artists’ work in Phase 2, it all fits together. The Star Sequence and its various phases thus makes CI easy and clear for both teacher and student, not something that CI is famous for.
Q. So I always ask the same questions in the order it recommends in the book?
A. Yes, because Cat. A is all about clarity and simplicity. The whole Invisibles system is about those two things. It’s focused. It is designed to instill strong classroom management, and not necessarily to teach the language, which comes in later, after the classroom management piece is there.
Q. Could you expand on the purpose of Cat. A?
A. Cat. A is training wheels. So, it’s somewhat boring. The cards are not that interesting, maybe a 3/10 on the interest scale, compared to the kick butt Categories B and C, which create 9/10 in interest. But Cat. A, as boring as it is, is not really boring to the kids because it is their first foray into the language. And your purpose in Cat. A is ONLY classroom management.
Q. So why would a teacher do something as boring as a 3/10 when they could do 9/10?
A. Because in the first weeks it’s not about teaching language. It’s about locking down your classroom management. You don’t care about teaching them language at this point. You want to shut down the blurters. This is what happens to 90% of teachers – they miss this point and then it turns into a year-long struggle because they didn’t shut the four or five kids with the loud mouths in the first few days of school. And they suffer all year for that. Cat. A is a big deal!
Q. What are the main things to know about implementing Category A?
A. In class, you use WBYT as your #1 priority. Then, after class, you apply the rubric on the second day. It’s going to be 65% of their grade, and it’ll be on how they listen. Put a grade in the computer every day, until they get the message. Then and only then can you think about teaching the language, when the class has been normed with WBYT and the rubric.
Q: With the rubric about listening, do you get pushback on behavior?
A: The standard is Communication. So this grade (the rubric, whether you use jGR or the one in this book) is not about participation at all. This idea has been discussed all over this PLC for years. Search jGR for some articles. If communication is disrupted, you can’t understand, and our main job is to make our kids understand by focusing on meaning and not the vehicle beings used to deliver it. So it’s not about participation at all, is it? Participation means the kid doesn’t cause trouble. That is an antiquated and useless notion in CI. CI is about teaching to the standard and you can’t do that if the kids think that your class is like all their other classes, where they get to blurt whatever they want whenever you want. Look – people can only learn languages when they are focused on meaning. So why would you let them talk in class, because when they do that they ARE NOT FOCUSED ON MEANING.
Q: Volunteers for artists, jobs on the first days?
A: So in Cat. A what you are doing is, among the other things like norming the class for behavior (your main goal as described above, you are looking at the student cards and searching for possible artists. Would you not vet and interview and check out any employee before hiring them? REJECT those kids who volunteer for jobs – esp. the most important job of the artist – until you have seen what they can do. And don’t criticize art work – it will be bad early on. But the kids who draw the stick figures will soon beg for another card to try again, since they see that when you ask for something like a card in Cat. A (first day of class), you actually mean it and you will only be discussing cards with good drawings. Kids are not used to having teachers who mean what they say.
Q. So ignore the bad drawings and don’t talk about them in the first few weeks when you are doing Card Talk and Cat. A?
A. Yes. Ignore bad drawings while they are drawing in the first 20 min. of the first day of class. They will figure it out when they see that you run a tight ship in your classroom. While they are doing their initial drawings on the card stock, walk around and make contact with kids whom you can see who are troublemakers. Establish connection. After they’re done drawing, do not point out flaws. Ignore them completely, and look for good drawings that follow instructions. Talk about those cards. Pick the one of a child who seems inviting, praise praise praise. The child not trying will notice and should realize that they can’t get by and get noticed in class without effort. Since it’s going to take a week or two to get the management piece in, you need to allow people to re-draw. Then they’ll start getting more involved. From the card talk, you can see who are the candidates are for being artists – look for a kind, thoughtful kid who would be a good candidate. Talk to the kid individually to make the offer. Invite: “Do you want to try being our first artist?” And once a few kids have tried, you can make a decision to have a permanent person in the role. Once you get the first five of the seventeen jobs in place, you have the basis for what will become a student police force, and your classroom management problems will be over.
Q: Reading. What about languages like Chinese that have other systems of writing?
A: The students need a lot more auditory understanding of Chinese before they can even begin to read and write. Why?
1. It takes far more input time (24K hours vs. 10K for modern languages) than you have time for.
2. Very few are going to China.
3. It’s not about teaching Chinese. You’re selling something. They only buy it if they want it. So only teach the characters 1-2 day a week. If you have any thought that you’re teaching the language, you’re wrong. What counts is to keep the kids thinking that they’re learning. Keep them happy and occupied. Bring the kids together into one group. They need more input before they can do characters.
4. Work on the Chinese characters as a separate activity and separate from CI. Different part of the brain. Usually need at least 200 hours to make the jump between sides of the brain.
5. Treat teaching the characters as a separate class, separate activity. If a class isn’t doing well, is misbehaving, you can give them writing sheets and a pencil. Instant quiet. Can be part of class, or a whole period.
6. Use Pinyin to write about the tableaux and stories you create with the Invisibles. Don’t try to make the leap to Chinese Characters.