Q. How long should I do tableaux before going to stories?
A. It is my belief that you should do them a lot longer than you think.
Q. How long?
A. Well, it always depends on the class, of course. Do they convey respect to you and your work? Have you built a feeling of community? Is there trust in the room? Those are big factors that stories require because you can’t build stories without the necessary ingredients of dialogue and action, which differentiate stories from tableaux and make them more complex.
Q. So should I wait to do stories until, say, late fall of Level 1?
A. I think that the best way to decide is when they can easily understand a tableau.
Q. Well, that keeps things simple.
A. Yes, and there are no rules in this work. It is also important to be aware of whether or not you feel that you have – in any individual tableau – enough of a kind of ground swell of interest before you move on to QL5 and QL6. But those are decisions that you have to make that are specific to each trip around the Star that you are taking.
Q. Can you expand on that?
A. Recently I’ve been thinking about how the theme of simplicity is so important to our work in making ourselves comprehensible to our students. Our students are so young in terms of hours of CI experienced – like babies, really.
Q. They really are!
A. And so the images that we create Phase 1 – so understandable to us – can easily bring “that tuned-out look ” that we see in many of our students’ faces even in good CI classes.
Q. That’s a good observation!
A. That look, by the way, is equal to them holding up a sign in class that says, “I don’t understand this and you are losing me.”
Q. Really? But couldn’t it also be that they are just not trying?
A. No. It is never that that they aren’t trying. It is that we have not made ourselves comprehensible. I would like to expand on that because it is something that many CI teachers still believe, that they have lazy students.
Q. We don’t have lazy students?
A. Maybe a very few whose home or personal life may be ruining their experience of life, but not anywhere near as many as we think.
Q. Then what is going on?
A. Generally, when kids don’t respond it is completely our fault. 100%.
A. Because we are not making ourselves clear, and to return to the topic at hand, we in most cavalier fashion choose so often to dive right into stories.
Q. That is probably very true.
A. Yes, we follow the enthusiasm of only our fast processors. We expect everyone in the room to follow along with complex plot development in Questioning Levels 5 and 6 – that involve dialogue and action and movement – when they barely understand the language.
Q. That’s true!
A. So I would say to really push back on those fast processors and just stay on the tableaux for the entire first year if you need to. Again, it depends on the class. But before they can do stories, students must have first been given something simple to relax their understanding into.
Q. But the One Word Images are so creative!
A. Not as much as the Individually Created Images.
Q. So can’t I do OWIs in level 1?
A. Absolutely you can and you should. But build tableaux from them, not stories, not until they are ready for stories anyway.
Q. Same with ICIs?
A. Yes. Just stay on the tableaux.
Q. What does that expression mean, exactly – “relaxing into stories”?
A. It means that basically if they lack confidence because the stories are just a bit too fast and intense for their understanding, then they can’t do this work. It will all be too tense for most of them. They have to relax and it is up to you to make that happen. You can’t just ask them to relax and enjoy the comprehensible input if they don’t understand it….
Q. That is true….
A. And really speaking, if you think about it, it is 100% OUR RESPONSIBILITY to guarantee them instruction into which they can “relax their understanding”….
Q. So what would that kind of tableau look like?
A. One where all the kids are totally involved?
A. Imagine that you have a class of debutants early in the year and you make a tableau that consists only of three simple and familiar images and only three words. This is what our kids need – a very very simple tableau. We just slowly talk about the three images and words. That’s all the artist drew because you kept the discussion so simple during your Phase 1 questioning process. The kids can then relax into that. It’s enough.
Q. Can you give a specific example?
A. On my wall here at home I have an example that I use in my online Ultimate CI trainings. I’m attaching the image below. It consists of the Earth, a star, the Moon, and a date in February. That’s it. I talk about those things at that simple level before going into more complex tableaux at the beginning of the year. I don’t mention the word “sky”. I don’t mention “winter”. I don’t let my enthusiasm to teach those related words into the class because it’s too early. Yes, I bring in related words later, but not at the beginning.
Q. It sounds like it’s all a question of evolving complexity of tableaux until stories just naturally happen. Is that it?
A. Yes, exactly.
Q. And it makes sense because if you keep the images really simple in the tableaux at the beginning of the year, then when you get to using real sentences it will be easier for the kids.
A. Yes, if you look at the example of those three celestial images and those three words (“February 4th”), you shouldn’t even use sentences to create the tableau. Just smile and say the three words “earth”, “star” and “moon” and the date. Don’t even use any adjectives like “small” to describe the star or anything, not at this early stage anyway. Make it totally easy for them, and then take it around the Star through Phases 2-5.
Q. What if they ask for those words?
A. I want my whiteboard to be ultra simple at the end of class, with few words on it. That is true later with stories as well, believe it or not. Keep your board simple and only write down the key word chunks or sentences that describe any tableau or story. The kids really appreciate that because it leads to guaranteed Phase 2 through Phase 5 comprehension and thus their full success later on.
Q. And then the quiz writer and the story writer write really simple texts and all the kids, the slow and fast processors, are happy because they understand.
A. And that is what we call successful CI teaching – everyone understands because you have done it that way and not let the fast processors run away with the class.