Important Articles on CI

Note to reader: This collection of 24 articles addresses various aspects of CI instruction. Arranged in no particular order, they can be printed out and shared with CI doubters, or with novice CI teachers just trying to wrap their heads around CI. They are intended to provide Ben’s Patreon patrons with a stronger and more robust general knowledge of CI.

Article 1 in Support of CI Instruction: This is a partial list of CI Teachers of the Year in various places around the country. We only developed this document from information during the years 2015-2017 but it is sufficient to show how CI teachers typically receive lots of awards:

State Teachers of the Year (2015-2017):

Sarah Breckley – Wisconsin Teacher of the Year 2017
Paul Kirschling – Colorado WL Teacher of the Year 2017
Sabrina Janczak – Colorado WL Teacher of the Year 2016
Grant Boulanger – Minnesota WL Teacher of the Year 2015
Annick Chen – Colorado WL Teacher of the Year 2015
Skip Crosby – Maine WL Teacher of the Year 2015
Darcy Pippins – Oklahoma WL Teacher of the Year 2015
Carrie Toth – Illinois WL Teacher of the Year 2015
Michele Whaley – Alaska WL Teacher of the Year 2014
Leslie Davison – Colorado WL Teacher of the Year 2014
Barb Cartford – Minnesota WL Teacher of the Year 2009
Jeremy Jordan – Missouri WL Teacher of the Year 2016
Kimberly Smith-Huegerich – Iowa WL Teacher of the Year 2017 (Secondary)
Meg Fandel – Iowa WL Teacher of the Year 2017 (ELEM-MS)
Christine M McCormick – Iowa WL Teacher of the Year 2016 (Secondary)

ACTFL Regional Awards (one of five regional finalists for ACTFL National Teacher of the Year):

Darcy Pippins – ACTFL Southwest Conference Teacher of the Year 2016
Grant Boulanger – ACTFL Central States Conference Teacher of the Year 2016
Dale Crum – ACTFL Southwest Conference Teacher of the Year 2009
Robert Patrick – ACTFL Southern Conference Teacher of the Year 2014
Carrie Toth – ACTFL Central States Conference Teacher of the Year 2015
Michele Whaley – ACTFL Pacific Northwest Conference Teacher of the Year 2015

Other awards:

Jenny KD – New York Leadership Initiative for Language Learning (LILL-ACTFL) 2017
Meredith White – Georgia Leadership Initiative for Language Learning (LILL-ACTFL) 2017
Christine M McCormick Iowa Secondary WLTOY 2016John Bracey – Classical Association of Massachusetts Excellence in Teaching Award (Massachusetts Latin Teacher of the Year) 2016
Skip Crosby – Northeast Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Teacher of the Year Finalist 2015; District Teacher of the Year Androscoggin (ME) 2014
Joseph Dziedzic – Jared Polis (U.S. Congressman – CO) Foundation Teacher Recognition Award 2011
Cathy Elliot – Gotong Royong Award by the Indonesian Teachers Association of South Australia 2015
Carol Gaab – Language Teacher of the San Francisco Giants (three World Series rings)
Steven Johnson – Northwestern High School Teacher of the Year 2012
Diana Noonan – President, Colorado Conference on Foreign Language Teaching 2015; Leadership Lamp, Denver Public Schools
Mary Overton – Colorado (CCFLT) Lynn Sandstedt Scholarship for study in Spain 2016
Ian Perry – Confucius Institute of Queensland (Australia) Excellence in Teaching Award 2015
Don Read – District Teacher of the Year Moraga (CA) 2015
Jennifer Wetzig – Colorado (CCFLT) Excellence in Teaching Award 2016
Mark Webster – Teacher of the Year, 2004-Spring Lake (MI) High School.

Article 2 in Support of CI Instruction: Here is a link to an article about a CI/TPRS teacher in Australia, discussing how comprehensible input language instruction has informed and transformed this teacher’s work:

Article 3 in Support of CI Instruction: “Being A Good Teacher Means That You Get Big Classes”

This next report from a Utah Teacher of the Year is important because it shows us how some of the best language teachers we have are walking away from the position. Instead of a raise or God forbid a BONUS, as happens in the business world, all this exemplary teacher got a catch phrase from his administrator (and we still wonder why education as a field is falling apart at the seams):

Hello –

This year I have 7 sections of high school Spanish 1, each class has an average of 38 students – about 300 students after I include my home room.

I’m feeling kind of burnt out. I can’t seem to get the buy-in during class (mainly from myself) after doing the same brain breaks and structures for seven classes (each 75 minutes).

Since I last wrote and due in no small amount to the summer trainings I have received at the national conferences from other CI teachers, I was awarded the Outstanding Educator of the Year from the Utah chapter of the PTA.

But after the year was over, I realized I was done. The burnout was real. I had hoped the summer would fix me up and get me ready to go back to the craziness. 

When this year started, I was averaging 40 students. I went to the administration and was told that being a good teacher means that you get big classes. I found that disheartening. Other teachers that taught the same classes as me were averaging smaller classes, and I started to look for other teaching positions.

I was offered a job at a Waldorf charter school. The position seemed great except for the 500 students that I would be teaching. I decided to stay at my current school, after all 300 hundred students didn’t seem that bad compared to that. (Ed. note: Wow! Those are impossible numbers! And look at his reward – more work!]

While I could write you a lot more about all the reasons, I’ll cut to the chase: I have decided to leave the profession. I found a new job, and I will be finishing up my last 2 days at my school after the Holiday Break.

Thank you so much for all the help over recent years. I’ve learned so much from you and everyone who does CI.


Paul Seevinck

Article 4 in Support of CI Instruction: Below is a letter from a CI teacher in Chicago, explaining how he feels about learning how to teach using comprehensible input language instruction:

Hello everyone,

I did one of those class evaluations and I got some pretty good data. It basically says that 95% of students love it when I teach using storytelling and only 5% would rather work in the textbook. I have learned – and perhaps this is one reason for the above results on my year-end survey, that as long as I speak a little slower and make myself more comprehensible, they thrive. Some students even commented that I should get rid of the textbook altogether.

Remember, I have to teach 8 chapters in that textbook every semester, so there are activities to do, vocabulary lists to memorize, etc. Looking forward to the next training in Chicago.

Jeff Easthon

Article 5 in Support of CI Instruction: Below is an email from John Piazza in San Francisco. He started pioneer work in 2010 in using comprehensible input language instruction (CI) in Latin. Yes, CI can be quite successful in teaching Latin.

I want to share some data with other CI teachers, in order to encourage those of you out there who are teetering on the edge. Perhaps you have used CI to some degree or other, and you have had a crisis of confidence. Perhaps you are getting pushback from those in your school community who want Latin to be a certain way – the way it’s always been. Perhaps you are thinking that you have made a big mistake, or are uncertain whether you will have a Latin program, or even a job next year. Perhaps you are internally conflicted, and are frightened that CI, TPRS, Krashen, etc, is really all just a fad, and that kids really aren’t learning anything after all.

I want to let you know that I have been there too, and I still feel all that doubt on some days. But I feel it far less often. Two years ago, I was the new Latin teacher* doing something new, and a lot of people were “concerned.” That was the hardest year of my teaching career, and I had 10 years of teaching Latin under my belt before that. Students dropped, parents complained, my confidence was undermined daily, by others and by my own self-doubt.

For those of you who are where I was, I want you to know that you are making radical and positive changes, even when you feel like you are not. If you are prioritizing communication with your students, and working to support all your students’ success, you are making a huge difference.

Next year will by my 4th year at my new job. Of the 63 students I began with, 42 have signed up for Latin 4. That’s almost a 70% retention rate over 4 years. Unheard of in almost any modern language. For 2 years, my enrollment in Latin 1 hovered around 40-50, not big enough to justify 2 sections of Latin 1. For 2 years, as traditional Latin students and their families opted out, I had to turn away 10-15 students every year, and faced a shrinking program.

Next year, however, I will have 2 sections, as 55 students signed up. This is thanks to word of mouth, students and parents spreading the word that all kinds of kids can do well and enjoy Latin. I have also got to know admins and counselors, who now know that Latin is a class they can recommend. Now I see growth in my program’s future.

One last piece of data: Today my principal shared with me an anonymous message meant for the Friday positive shout outs. It did not make the announcements, but my principal wanted me to see the message. Here it is:

“Mr. Piazza is not only passionate about teaching Latin, he is also one of the most caring individuals I have ever met. He makes every single one of his students feel welcome and appreciated. And his classroom is always a safe-haven amidst all the chaos of high school. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I might say a writer or engineer but what I’m actually thinking in my head is “I want to be the type of person that inspires others, the type of person Mr. Piazza has been to me.”

I could not have written a fake student message more to the point than this. I was speechless. Not only am I full of joy at having had this effect, but it is powerful to realize that a student can articulate so clearly something that I never have put into words for them, but has been my intention every day.

This data, the numbers and the message, and countless other effects that I observe in my daily routine–all this shows me that I am making a difference.

Know that you are having a positive influence on kids’ lives. This work is transformative, for us as well as for students. Don’t give up. There will be a dip in the numbers, you will feel like maybe you made a mistake. People will question you. But if you step back and think about it, you will also realize that there is no going back.

*[ed. note: John was not the new Latin teacher in just ANY school all those years, but at Berkeley High School, (CA) where the children of instructors at the University of California, where he encountered some seriously steep opposition to the old ways of teaching Latin. And now in 2021, over ten years since he encountered those dark days of transitioning to CI, the good news is that John is still there at the same high school, enjoying his work and happy that he made the switch to align his language instruction with the ACTFL Communication Standard and the research.]

Article 6 in Support of CI Instruction: Another bit of information about CI teachers:

David Ganhal reports from Riverside, CA

I was thrilled to find out that two intermediate school Spanish teachers, Lindsey Casper-El Cerrito and Joanne Meza-Ramirez, were selected, this year, as their schools’ teachers of the year.

Besides being amazing teachers, they both just happen to be CI teachers too.


Article 6 in Support of CI Instruction: Here is another testimonial from a CI teacher:

Reflections on a Career

I was sitting at my desk at the end of another long day in the trenches, thinking back, just thinking about the almost four decades and roughly 35,000 classes I taught in my career. 

Looking around in my files I found a picture that jumped out at me as perhaps the happiest moment of my career:

It was taken about four years ago at Lincoln HS on Denver’s “West Side” where there are a lot of Latino schools. The student I’m talking with in French in the photo, being fluent in Spanish as 99% of the students in that school were, could process French faster than just about any student I remember in my career. I’m glad I wasn’t making him conjugate verbs.

I remember that Dr. Krashen was actually in the room that day, with his entourage from the district office, observing – he happened to be in Denver that week – and how nervous I was, but when the kids saw a visitor there, they turned up their good will and looked like a bunch of French super stars! 

Yup, I think that the image above captured what was maybe the highlight of my career. It wasn’t the time my students in a private school in South Carolina took the top ten scores in the state on the National French Exam that year. It wasn’t the time I had a student in French in Level II earn a 4 on the French AP exam with no prior knowledge. It wasn’t any of the awards. What was it? 

It was the time spent with those kids. Thank you, God, for making me be a CI teacher so that I was actually able to align with the research in my instruction. Thanks for turning me away from the textbook so long ago. I wouldn’t have made it. And sorry about all the bitching.

Article 8 in Support of CI Instruction: Below is a letter support from a parent of a CI teacher in Los Angeles – Steven Ordiano, a member of our online CI learning community of language teachers:

During the summer, I was emailed by a supportive parent. They attached a picture I took with my superstar student in the email and I realized “Wouldn’t it be cool if I ask for a testimonial?” I asked and below is the reply from my student.

Mr. Ordiano –

This is what my daughter wrote to say how the way you teach has helped her in the past year. I am most grateful:

“Last year, I would ask my friends what they had for homework and they would always say Spanish: grammar work, vocabulary words, tenses, etc. . Mr. Ordiano never gave us work like that; he only required our attention and effort in class, and our grades were based upon that. I asked some of my classmates last year what they thought about French, and they said they didn’t learn a lot. Some of the students that I asked had not always paid attention in French the past year, and ironically complained that they did not learn French. On the other hand, some students in my class had learned quite a lot of French like I did, and I realized these were the kids that were almost always putting in the effort and time needed to acquire French. I noticed these kinds of results in all of my classmates, and it leads me to believe that Mr. Ordiano’s teaching is not at fault, it is the student’s attentiveness and effort that produces results. I have learned an incredible amount of French in the past two years, and have surprised many fluent French speakers that are friends of ours with my ability to hold a conversation. Mr. Ordiano has also had us look at the research behind his teaching methods, and it all makes sense. Mr. Ordiano’s teaching methods work very well.

J (K’s Mother)

Article 9 in Support of CI Instruction: Here’s a note from a student to a CI teacher about what they experience in the teacher’s class:

Dear [Teacher]:

Acquiring a language is not exactly easy and I’m guessing teaching a language isn’t either. Over the years of your teaching I have learned many things that can well equip me for the future, from history lessons to old folktales and more.

Foreign Language is not necessarily my passion, and though learning it throughout school is great, I doubt future paths will encourage the pursuit of learning more.

About a week ago it was teacher appreciation day and I wanted to pay my tribute towards a teacher that makes an impact on me every day. I chose to write to you because of the effect you have on my brother and how he has such passion and desire to learn this and various other languages.

My brother has always struggled throughout school and still loses himself from time to time because he believes he is only ever what a report card grade says he is. But when he talks about your class or his dream of learning Spanish his expression changes. Every day when he talks about your class and I watch a light go on.

It’s a light that makes him forget about his GPA, his math grade, his struggles in history class, and he just focuses on how good he is at something and all the opportunities coming his way because of it. You really have made him feel successful at Spanish!

So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching your class as you do and and getting your students involved, because for kids like my brother the one thing they are good at could be their future and that one teacher that tells them they are capable could change their life more than one could think.

Thank you for always being an inspiration and a glimpse of hope for everyone. Foreign Language may not be my passion but it is because of you that the passion can thrive and conquer the world of learning.


Your Student

Article 10 in Support of CI Instruction: Things to Look For in CI Classes that you won’t see in traditional classes:

1. ALL of the ACTFL 5 Cs (including direct ways that Culture is embedded in the comprehensible input lesson).
2. A full focus on the standard of Communication, the ACTFL national standard.
3. Personalization and customization of instruction to reflect a child’s importance in the classroom.
4. High engagement, good classroom management.
5. Quality examples of a particular CI technique, for example One Word Images.
6. Instruction that demonstrates collaborative leadership model – teacher-directed but student-driven.
7. Being in the target language more than L1 (the assumption being that the ACTFL position statement of 90% instruction in the TL is still in the discussion phase before the rank and file of CI/TPRS teachers accept it.
8. Communicative activities where teachers design and carry out interpersonal communication tasks for pairs, small groups, and whole class instruction.
9. Planning with the Backward Design model – Identify desired results as functional, communicative goals, and only THEN determine acceptable evidence (what learners can do).
10. Use of Authentic Cultural Texts – Provide interactive reading, listening, and viewing tasks using authentic cultural texts with appropriate scaffolding to support construction of meaning and interpretation (without translation).
11. Teaching grammar as concepts within meaningful use in contexts; learners focus on meaning before form. Learners are taught that real grammar is “correctly spoken speech”.
12. Never forcing speech output and providing the students with the chance to self-correct their understanding or output before assuming they can’t do the task.

Article 11: Teaching Greetings

There is a danger in teaching greetings. There are too many of them and they are confusing to beginning students because of their complexity. For example, the expressions in French:

How are you?
What is your name?

can sound very much alike:

Comment allez-vous? Comment vas-tu?
Comment vous appelez-vous? Comment t’appelles-tu?

Not only that, there are many different ways to ask how a person is:

Ça va?
Comment ça va?
Vous allez bien?
Comment vous portez-vous?

Now, the brain has to handle each of these arrangements differently, because each sound pattern is different. It is bewildering for kids who have never formerly studied a language before.

Yet, since we are usually under district pressure to “teach greetings” in the first few weeks of school (the district and the book publishers think that asking how one is or what one’s name is or what time it is or what the weather is are easy tasks), we drown our kids in these complex sound patterns and undermine the trust that we are otherwise so carefully trying to build with our students.

Usually what happens is that the teacher walks around the room with a fake smile and fake interest (do they really care how the kid is?) saying the “How are you” question over and over, and very soon the kids’ eyes start to glaze over and with good reason. How would you like to be sitting in a room where someone keeps asking people how they are for five or ten minutes?

Some teachers even sneak in things like “What is your name” (which sounds a lot like “How are you” in French) and then, when the kid innocently answers that they feel good today, the teacher says in English, “Ha ha! I tricked you! asked you your name, not how you are!” which begins a tirade of using L1.5 to explain the difference and the kids just scrunch down in their seats in an effort to get away from this over-explainer who asks boring questions.

So, we need to till the greetings soil with absolute simplicity, so that our students really get it. We can teach greetings slowly over the course of the entire year, a little bit at a time. Delivering easy to understand and interesting and meaningful comprehensible input from the beginning, clearly enforcing rules, going slowly, talking only about the kids, these things will have the kids leaning forward in their seats trying to understand what is going on. But how can we do this with greetings?

There is only one way to teach greetings that I have seen that works:

We make their answer visible. Then it works. We write out a list of possible responses to the “How are you?” question of how the students are that day. A good place to put them is on a large poster on a tripod or in a Power Point presentation and we start class with this strategy two or three times a week at least!

Here are the expressions I use:

Ça va/ Ça ne va pas – Good/Not good
comme çi comme ça – so-so
Je vais bien – I’m well
J’ai confiance en moi – I’m confident about myself
J’ai soif – I’m thirsty
J’ai faim – I’m hungry
J’ai sommeil – I’m sleepy
J’ai mal – I am sore, I hurt
Je me sens/Je suis… – I feel/I am…
content – happy
heureux – happy
excité – excited
amoureux – in love
en forme – in shape, feeling good
fier/fière – proud
soulagé – relieved
grincheux – grumpy
irrité – upset
stressé – stressed
triste – sad
fâché – angry
inquiet – worried
frustré – frustrated
nerveux – nervous
déçu – disappointed
vaseux – out of it
malade – ill, sick
confus – confused
épuisé – exhausted

We go around the room getting reps on these structures. We do not allow students to repeat answers. It’s fun to go around the room at the start of a class and ask how each kid is actually feeling that day. The students, since they are not stupid, will be able to tell if we really want to know and that will prompt them to choose honest answers from the list above.

As long as we don’t pry into their personal lives, we can stretch out the conversation by asking why a student is happy or grumpy. This is true even in a first-year class. For example, if a kid says she is grumpy we can ask why and she can just say one word, like “un professeur” or a boy could say he is happy because of “une fille.” It’s just a fun way to start the class. I leave words like “depressed” out of the list of choices I offer my students.

If a child uses an answer that another child has already used during this time spent working on greetings, we use the following expression to swat away their repeated answer:

Déjà pris! – Already taken! [credit: Sabrina Janczak])
Article 12: Eight Steps to Follow When Being Observed

Step 1: Write this objective on the board before the class: In the target language, students will help create, discuss and then read the description of an image in class.
Step 2: Discuss the objective with the students. (2-3 min.)
Step 3: Review (for the observer to get the box checked) how your students will be graded. (3-4 min.)
Step 4: Build a tableau from a student card, one word image or individually created image. (5-15 min.)
Step 5: With the tableau finished, begin Phase 2 of the Star with the Review. (2-3 min.)
Step 6: Do the Reveal, the 2nd activity in Phase 2 (4-6 min.)
Step 7: Give the Quick Quiz, the 3rd activity in Phase 2 (6-8 min.)

Estimated total time required* for this observation: 22-39 min.


1. *It is quite easy to gauge your minutes while the class is happening. Just check the time periodically and shorten or lengthen the time you spend on any one of the above steps.
2. If you end the above process in only 20-25 min. in a 50 min. class, go on to Phase 3 (write the finished tableau out on the whiteboard) and even Phase 4 (the nine reading activities).
3. If you teach on a block, keep rolling and you may even get to the Phase 5 extension activities.

Article 13: The Most Critical Point about Making Stories

Below is a series of practical steps that allow you to move from tableaux into stories.

1. Remember that tableaux are merely stepping stones to stories. Tableaux exist for that reason.
2. Build a tableau as usual using all the instructions and steps found in Book 1.
3. While building any tableau, use your intuition by trying to become aware of any possible story lines (hooks) that may insert themselves into your mind during the building of the tableau.
4. Listening to your intuition in this way sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.
5. You don’t have to act on each intuitive idea. Just let them come and go during the creation of the tableau. If no ideas come, then obviously you won’t be doing a story that day. Bail out of the story attempt.
6. When you bail out, say to your students, “Well, we’re not doing very well with this story attempt, so let’s drop it.”
7. Most of the time your students will go along with the bail out – they don’t want to get involved with a boring story any more than you do.
8. Bailing out is easy and sends the message to the class that the class as a whole and not just the teacher is responsible for the creation of a story.
9. When you bail out, you are within your rights to just announce to the students in that class that they “lack imagination that day”. This trick of blaming the failure of the story on your students is not inaccurate.
10. The result of bailing out by telling the class that it is partially their fault takes you deeper into community while it removes the pressure on you to be the only one responsible for making up the story.
11. When you lovingly and in a humorous way blame your students for the failure of the story, you are merely speaking a truth. In this way, you can end once and for all the big fear that most CI teachers experience when trying to do stories that they “can’t do it”.
12. To repeat the key point here, due to its importance: when going from QL4 into QL5, if the possibility of a story enters your mind, decide if you want to use it or not and then do it or bail out.
13. You will find that each tableau that you make in each of your classes all year will either “speak” to you as you teach it or it won’t. You may hear internally: “This tableau sucks. I’m bailing. No story here!” OR you may hear, “Hey I wonder if the fact that the lemon is orange and the orange is yellow [information from the tableau) could be turned into a problem where both fruits want to be their “real” colors!”
14. Re: point 13 above, find the complete list of Ultimate CI videos and watch the one about “Deux Fruits”. You will be able to see how random facts gathered in the making of that tableau propelled it into a story, albeit a simple one lacking any real development via dialogue and movement from one place to another.

Reflection questions:

1. If the story works, fine. But do you see where it doesn’t have to and that bailing out of any tableau or any story at any time is a choice you have that can save you a lot of stress?
2. Are you open to the idea of listening to your intuition and paying attention to any messages that may arise during the creation of the tableau to become a story?
3. Are you open to the idea in your CI teaching of just letting things develop naturally, letting each new fact/bit of information determine where the story goes without getting nervous about it?
4. Can you see that when you don’t have a story in your mind before you start the tableau, the stories almost always turn out much better? That’s because planning is a bad word in this kind of work – it dries things up before they begin!
5. Will you be able to remember to do only extremely simple stories to begin with when you start stories in Level 1? Can you avoid taking your Level 1 and 2 students off into the weeds?
6. Similarly, can you remember to avoid adding too much detail? You can add lots of rich details in upper-level Ultimate CI classrooms, but in levels 1 and 2 in Ultimate CI classrooms you must keep things simple.

Article 14: This is Your Gradebook Speaking

Hello, I am your grade book and I wanted to congratulate you on another year in service to me. Oh, I know, I know. You thought you were working on behalf of the kids. Hah, hah! That’s funny! We all know that you can’t serve two masters. Serve me!

Let’s take for example that pesky Javiar Lugo! He is just so bad. He sits so far in the back. How can he learn anything? I think he’s lazy. So, what if he can’t read in French because he just got here from Mexico four years ago and he can barely read in English or even Spanish? We’ve got to hold him to the standards!

What do you think that little box in my wonderful world of grade book boxes (boxes for everything!) that is labeled “Reading 1” means? With the cool initials “R1”? That is a reading grade, my friend, and you have to fill it with a grade for Javiar just like all the other kids! We’re holding Javiar to standards!

No child left behind is my motto! That means every kid held to the same standards all the time.

Differentiation? Hah! Everyone knows that I am in charge. Differentiation is just a word that people use to make it look like there is still a human element in education. Forget that!

And I hate the way Javiar always sits in the back. Twice this year he has begged you to be allowed to sit in the back. What is up with that? And you let him! You have your seating chart!

What’s that you say? Javiar is painfully shy, awkward in his fifteen-year old body, and only seems happy when he is sitting way in the back listening to stories?

Hmmm. Let me see here. Let me look at my glorious self and see what kind of grades Javiar has for his listening quizzes on stories…. Oh, wow! Javiar has two 9’s out of 10! But on his jGR grade he only has a 5 of 10 because the interpersonal element is not there. And there is a 0 on a reading test! Hmmm.

What’s that you say? He is fluent in Spanish? And so he can understand you really really well when you speak French? That doesn’t matter! Javiar must learn how to read. A zero is a zero, my friend!

You say he wasn’t ever able to read in his first language in Mexico? Hmmm. Well, that’s too bad. But my CI curriculum involves lots of reading in level 1. It’s just the way it’s done.

And you say he only arrived in the U.S. six months ago? Too bad. I have my curriculum. Maybe we can get someone in the building to help him read better. Aren’t there people who do that?

Let’s review this – he has four grades so far: one 5/10 on the Class Communication rubric and 2 9’s but there’s now another 0 on the reading test, so two 0s on reading. Hmmm. Well, let me calculate with my lightning speed… that’s an F! Javiar needs to learn how to read!

This is an emergency! We need to get that extra staffing on this. We need to get those ELA people at the other end of the building to teach him how to read in English. We will force him to learn how to read those novels!

What’s that you say? The ELA people are not very good at that? What are you talking about? We spend vast amounts of money in this district on teaching reading to kids from other countries who can’t read! Everything depends on our pouring those dollars into reading!

What’s that you say? Reading is a result of lots of practice, and can’t be rushed? Why would you say that? Who? Stephen Krashen? Never heard of him! We are on a plan here in our building on reading. We have a plan! We will force these kids to read!

What? They have no books in their house? Why, everybody has books in their house! They need to get rid of their TV sets and get books instead!

What? Javiar’s mother is still in Mexico and dad is working three jobs? Well, he should get a library in his house anyway! What? Javiar himself is working? He can’t – he’s only fifteen! He needs to go to school!

What? Dad likes to spend the few hours a week he can with his son watching Mexican league soccer? That’s ridiculous! Make him go to the library! What? That library on Federal Avenue next to the strip club was closed down?

Look! Javiar needs to learn how to read! It’s an emergency! Otherwise, he is going to flunk your class and not be a productive citizen, which is the very mission of our school, which I, in all my grade book glory, serve, and really well, I might add! I’m trying to help you with this reading problem!

What? Now you are admitting to me that Javiar has a smartphone? Well, there’s the problem! What? And he works twenty-five hours a week after school to pay for it and be able to eat? Well, that’s easy, we’ll just take that phone away from him. Then his reading scores will go up! Now we’re getting somewhere! Done! We’ll take his phone from him today! Damn technology!

What? I’m technology? Oh, but I’m different. I’m a grade book. I pretty much run your life and the lives of your students if they want to succeed in life. And, let’s get back to the point – you need to teach that kid to read, or somebody does.

What? What do you mean it’s going to take a long time? What’s that you say? He needs to hear English a lot before he can read it? He needs to be brought along at his own natural pace in reading and the longer he reads and stays in the country, maybe re-uniting his family, the better he’ll read? Just by reading naturally and not forcing it? That’s ridiculous. What do you think the 2000 ELA teachers in this district are for? You forget. We are the educators! We will educate you!

What did you say? Javiar wrote a note on the reading test? What did it say? Oh, it said …Mr. Slavic, I try so hard but I can’t do it!…. right there on the reading test? He wrote that on the reading test? Well, there you have it! He is asking for help. I will inform the administration and they will contact the five different people responsible for reading intervention and we will fix this!

What? You have another idea? Drop the grade? Did you say drop the grade? I can’t do that. I am your grade book and I won’t allow it! Javiar has to have that reading grade in there! We will force him to read!

What? You’re not going to listen to me? You’re going to not grade Javiar on reading all year? That is blasphemy! You can’t do that! What kind of commie liberal are you, letting that kid off the hook when every other kid in the class has to have their reading grades count?

What? There are others with reading issues, mainly due to their being new Americans or living in poverty? Screw that! How many? Three? I’ll inform the principal! We’ll get them in one of our programs! What, our programs are not interesting to the kids? Well I never!

What? You’re not only going to ignore Javiar’s reading grade all year but you’re going to let him sit in the back and just put his arms over his head and listen to French with that goofy look on his face, even laughing from time to time in class? You can’t do that!

Wait, I feel a calculation coming on. Let me figure this out. If you don’t count the reading grade he gets a B. If you do he gets an F.

Give him the F! He is lazy. I have spoken.

Article 15: The Need for Clarity in Online Instruction

We are now at the beginning of the online instruction revolution and we will learn much as we go along. Here are a few cautions that we know about currently:

1. It is highly recommended that students NOT use their phones to join a Zoom language class, for these reasons:

The teacher must absolutely be able to SEE her students. Otherwise, she cannot provide the 50% Interpersonal Skill grade, which is such a key piece of our online language instruction.
The student must be able to “pin the speaker” and cannot do that when on a phone.
Students get “pinged” constantly when on a phone, which has a very deleterious effect on their understanding or what is being said in class.

Article 16: SLOW

No book on comprehensible input language instruction can be considered complete without mention of the importance of the key skill that makes it all work – SLOW. There is nothing more important.

Here are some thoughts:

Speaking too fast disempowers students. Speaking to your students at a slow pace indicates respect. When you speak slowly you acknowledge that you appreciate how hard it is for your students to understand the new and quite foreign language.

To quote Blaine Ray:

“The reason we have to go so slowly is that we can’t feel how hard it is. We have a feeling that the language is easy because that is our experience. By slowing down much more than we believe is necessary or possible, we are getting close to the best speed. We can only feel this by learning another language.”

Blaine implies two things here:

1. that the proper speed is going to feel awkward to us, and
2. that empathy is a necessary ingredient in delivering comprehensible input to a class. One must put oneself in the position of the learner, and feel how hopeless one can feel when one does not understand what is going on.

One day I was watching my classes being taught by a teacher new to the method. I was coaching her from the side of the room. Being new to it, she went extremely slowly. The kids responded beautifully, due to the excessive slowness. I felt the truth of SLOW at that moment.

One student, whom I perceived as something of a jerk because he didn’t pay enough attention in class was really hanging in there with this particular student teacher and her slower teaching.
I had to recognize that his problem was not in fact his but mine. His failure to understand in my class was my problem. If comprehension-based teachers could just get that one idea, their relationships with their jobs would change. It’s not that the kids aren’t trying – it’s that you are speaking too fast.

To put it simply, when the kids are with you, you are going slowly enough. If your speech is too fast for even one student, it is too fast.

Since that eye-opening experience, I have learned through practice to speak in “chunks” of sound lasting three or four seconds. I have found that if I do not limit myself to that amount of time per utterance, I lose the kids. When I frame an image or an idea in these smaller “chunks” of sound, the kids understand me.

Of course, the key to all this is WBYT and the Jesús Rule.

It is quite difficult to slow down in English, so why would we think it easy to do so when speaking to our students in the target language? SLOW requires strict self-discipline by us. The feeling should be of driving 10 miles an hour in a 45 mile an hour zone.

Many of us work very hard at mastering all the other skills involved in learning comprehension-based instruction, but when we forget SLOW, we miss the entire point and invalidate all our efforts in learning the other skills. The other skills have no effect unless we go slowly!

If only one sentence could be repeated over and over and over in this book, it would be this one:

…we must speak to our students at all times in a way that makes us feel as if we are putting very large pauses, pauses that seem as if they are up to eight seconds long, between each word we say….

In fact, I would suggest that one of the reasons for many of the failures in the American educational system is that teachers routinely speak to their students, in all subjects, using rates of words per minute that exceed the capacity of high school students to understand them.

Students are always exactly where they are, and if we express something in three seconds, and they need four, it is up to us to slow our speech down to their level and not expect the reverse to magically happen. Luckily, if we properly execute the skill of Walk Before You Talk in our CI classes, we know we will be speaking slowly enough.

We must develop compassion and empathy for what the student is experiencing. If we could develop and put into practice this empathy, we would derive results we could not have predicted or imagined.

Article 17: Just Relax

Some teachers who are using CI are always looking for the newest and latest activity that will render obsolete all the other innumerable activities that they have already found over previous years of frenetic searching, now piled up in their rapidly-filling garbage bin.

The research tells us that we must relax if we are to succeed in this work. Said differently, the research strongly indicates to us that the key to our success in this work lies in calm and relaxed and pleasant give-and-take of enjoyable conversation with our students, and not in any particular strategy or way of teaching using CI.

Too many of us are unable to resist the temptation to “challenge” our students – like we used to in the old paradigm – with more testing than is necessary, with too fast speech, with texts like “the novels” that many students in the class can’t even read (which results in equity issues in our classroom which will only go away if we consciously address them by curtailing our use of novels and increasing our use of Invisibles texts created in class that the students can read).

Those things are not what the Star is about. Let’s take a few examples. When you arrive at Phase 3, why write out a text that is too hard for your students by embedding too much new vocabulary in them? Or, when you arrive at the Phase 5 extension activities on a journey around the Star, why give them a dictée that is too hard for them?

If you give your students material that is too unwieldy for them, you will confuse them. There is nothing more important than instilling confidence in your students. The one who knew this most is Lev Vygotsky a hundred years ago in Russia. 

So, resist the need to “challenge” your students on their journey around the Star. All you do when you do that is create more stress for yourself.

Our real work in teaching languages, largely ignored by most teachers who have been brought up in the old paradigm, has nothing to do with “challenging” students, and everything to do with making things easy for them to understand. Always. No exceptions. Then our jobs become easy for us!

The reason for this is simple: all the brain activity that is responsible for acquiring languages happens in the unconscious mind, and “challenging” students is something that only occurs in the conscious mind.

So, don’t “challenge” your students. Make it pleasant and easy for them to simply sit in class and absorb the language via the drawings and put an end to all of the struggle and needless searching for “the right pedagogy” or “the right materials” or “the right trainer” or “the right workshop”.

Using this simple grading formula provides you with lots of extra time to do exactly what is in my view the most important thing you can do as a language teacher, and that is to just relax.

Don’t we work hard enough in our classrooms? Isn’t it our right to be able to completely relax when we are out of class, and even in class? The Star, not being based on preparation and planning or any kind of timeline or word list, allows us that privilege.

About twenty years ago when teaching high school French in South Carolina, being at that point in time roughly half way through my teaching career, I was struggling very deeply emotionally. I was not happy in my job.

The early optimistic thoughts that I had carried into teaching twenty years earlier were almost all gone, but I had no other acceptable career choices, and with a family to support I wasn’t sure if I would ever get out of my predicament.

Of course, we know that it’s our right, not a privilege, to not have to overwork in our jobs. It’s our right. But somehow it never works out that way. In 2018 over one million American teachers left the teaching profession. That statistic speaks for itself.

When we go around the Star with no timelines and no deadlines, we experience far less stress as we learn how to build short tableaux early in the year, getting around the star in a relaxed way in a day or two, and then as the year progresses and as the students mature and as the class community and students who have jobs get more experienced, we find ourselves later in the year taking longer and longer relaxed journeys around the star with stories and there is no feeling of pressure. But there is one heck of a lot of language being acquired. How about that?

We don’t have to work ourselves like mules and that we have relaxation rights as teachers, as per the following article:

Article 18: A Teacher’s Bill of Rights

One day during another of what seemed to be an unending series of planning periods where I usually just sat at my desk making up worksheets, I found a piece of paper stuck behind a pile of old books in the back of a closet in my classroom. It was a faded copy of a “personal bill of rights” written by Edmund Bourne, Ph.D.
I taped it to my desk and started to read it every day. In fact, I have never stopped reading it, even now twenty years later and living in Colorado and with a much healthier relationship with my profession.

There is a kind of energy in our buildings that carries or implies that we in fact don’t have basic rights as teachers. It’s insidious and we need to be able to recognize it and fight it in our minds.

I believe that Dr. Bourne’s list applies to all of us teachers. If we can realize these rights in our personal lives and also learn to exercise them in our classroom, then I believe that we can build a more assertive attitude to being in a school building, and with it a much happier (and longer!) career.

Here is the list:

1. I have the right to make reasonable requests from my administration and get them fulfilled.
2. I have the right to say no to requests or demands that I can’t meet from my supervisors, counselors, parents and students.
3. I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative, to certain people in my building whom I trust.
4. I have the right to change my mind if I notice that something I’ve agreed to do is not working.
5. I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect for observers.
6. I have the right to follow my own standards of what is acceptable in my classroom.
7. I have the right to raise my expectations of students to a level that is consistent with my own inner standards of proper decorum in my classroom.
8. I have the right to say no to any request from anyone in my building when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe, or violates my values.
9. I have the right to determine my own priorities in my instruction, and not be forced to align with what others think is best for my students.
10. I have the right not to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings, or problems, especially students.
11. I have the right to expect honesty from everyone in my building.
12. I have the right to be angry at anyone in my building and to express that anger, after a cool-down period of a few days, in a calm and reasonable conversation with them.
13. I have the right to be uniquely myself and to teach in a way that I feel is best for me and my students, irrespective of what others may tell me.
14. I have the right to feel scared and inwardly say “I’m scared” at any time during class or in some meeting.
15. I have the right to say “I don’t know” to any question I might get in my building.
16. I have the right not to give excuses or reasons for my behavior.
17. I have the right to make professional decisions based on my feelings.
18. I have the right to my own needs for personal space and time in my building.
19. I have the right to be playful and frivolous in class.
20. I have the right to be healthier than those around me.
21. I have the right to be in a non-abusive professional environment.
22. I have the right to make friends and be comfortable around people whom I trust in my building.
23. I have the right to change and grow, and to not be in a big hurry to do that.
24. I have the right to have my needs and wants respected by others in my building.
25. I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by all those I work with.
26. I have the right to be happy during my school day.

Even our administrators would have to agree that few of these rights are currently allowed to us in our school buildings. That is a shocking thing to say, but if we all can “own” what a negative atmosphere most of us work with.

But Dr. Bourne suggests that if you carefully read through this list every day, as I did (while sharing the original version with a lot of students along the way as well), eventually you will learn to accept that you are entitled to these rights.

Article 19: Kindergarten Day

Kindergarten Day – which happens usually on Fridays as a reward – allows us to see our students in a different way – not so much as students but as real children. We read from picture books like “I Am A Bunny” or “Trains” or from counting books with pictures of things like four apples, and five flowers, etc.

We read from these books for fifteen minutes or so. If the book tells a story, we can tell it, or we can just talk about what is in each picture. 

During this time, we become kindergarten teachers. The kids’ eyes are riveted on the pictures as we sit in a chair in front of them. We read the books with all the heart quality we can muster. 

It is a humbling experience. Our kids just BECOME five-year-olds, but some can’t, and stay stuck in their fourteen-year-old bodies. But all of them listen in total silence, and none pick their nose.

The sound, the feeling, of the words takes center stage in this activity.  Because of the ambiance thus created, we often become precisely aware of when and what they are processing. 

Everything becomes more transparent. Familiar words are clearly absorbed, and the students all report nines and tens on hand comprehension checks after the activity.

We flow into the Pure Land a few times. The feeling of internal frustration that occurs in stories when we don’t have all of their full attention is gone, because L2 is occurring on more of a heart level than on a mind level for them. It isn’t just a story, it’s something different.

The kids have their cupcake plans and blankie plans all set up for next week’s kindergarten day activity, which usually happens on Fridays as a reward for good classes during the week. 

Some bring in stuffed animals and their now blanks from home, and sometimes special books for me to read. But none are more excited than me. I feel, in those moments today, that I am really sharing the language I teach with my students at a deeper level of mutual trust than usual.

As Jody Noble has said, “Kindergarten Day is a beauteous thing.”

Susan Gross has said, “Kindergarten Day is PURE GOLD. The most successful language teachers in the whole world (mommy and daddy) do this every single day at bedtime. If they do it, then it is good. If they do it a lot, then it’s best.”

Article 20: We Do Projects in the Final Months of the Year
Starting in April of each year, students come together in teams, taking on jobs and responsibilities to work on one of three possible projects. Why? It is because most students (and 99% of their teachers) don’t care anymore and need the summer break. Why would we want to burn ourselves out in late spring when we can just enjoy walking around the room supervising teams of students who are preparing for the end of year celebration time?
Each student chooses one of the three projects and then joins that team. Each team consists of between two and four students (more in big classes), so in larger classes there will be more than one team working on any one project, since it is best to keep the teams small.
Here are the teams:
Documentary Video Team
Class Book Team
Celebration Team
Don’t forget, in the months leading up to the spring projects, to “sell” your students on the idea of the spring projects by mentioning them frequently during the course of the year. Much of the success you will have with the end-of-year projects depends on your doing this promotional work.
The students must be constantly reminded in the fall and winter that as the year begins to wind down in April they will at that time have the opportunity to join a team that will produce videos and books as artifacts to commemorate the school year. Tell them that they can also be on a team that will help the class celebrate its year together through the videos, books that are produced.
It is even possible for students who are members of the documentary video team, if schedules permit, to join other teams from other classes to produce really cool dual or even multi-class videos.
Remind your students also that if the entire class doesn’t dive head first into the projects, then the end of the year months will likely be spent doing grammar worksheets to prepare for the next teacher they have at the next level, who is likely to be a grammar teacher.
Important note: Many teachers have to send their students, when they move up to the next level, to teachers who use grammar/worksheets as their primary way of teaching. This is just a fact. So, tell the students that the end-of-year projects aren’t guaranteed for every class and they may have to do two months of grammar prep and not be able to work on the end-of-year projects at all. Those are all local decisions that you have to make.
Team 1: Documentary Video Team
This team works under the leadership of the documentary filmmaker, who is the student in the classroom most dedicated to the world of film. The best student for this job is one who may want one day work in film professionally. She diligently collects video footage from the archivist throughout the year to prepare for the spring work. She works with her team to produce a documentary with her team of students, which usually consists of the students in Hub D:
Hub D:

(1) Documentary Filmmaker (leads the production of the class’s videos in documentary form at the end of the year).
(2) Book Publisher (leads the publication of the class’s stories in book form at the end of the year).
(3) Archivist (collects – in a 1 or 2 TB external drive – video footage sent to her from the videographer and story writer at the end of each tableau or story. Guarantees that video and story texts are available for the April project work.)
(4) Curator (organizes and schedules the end-of-year celebration by reaching out to news media, helping parents, etc.)
Of course, not all classes will employ a documentary filmmaker over the course of the year, but those that do put a huge building-wide stamp on your program. The screening of the actual film in the last few days of the year is a really big event that is much anticipated by students and parents and staff alike.
The final film product usually includes a lot of video retells. Its goal is to capture the best moments of the year from all the footage of stories (the videographer’s job) and to celebrate the class’s progress in general. The video may be as short as ten minutes, or it may be an up to an hour-long reflection piece, complete with student and teacher interviews, interspersed with scenes from class stories and possibly even interviews with parents and administrators, complete with a musical soundtrack. It can thus tell the story of the creative group process, of individual successes and failures, and of the learning and growing that it inspired in the class that year.
The student in charge of making the end of year celebratory video may even walk away from this activity with an actual video that they can submit to a college as part of their application process.
Team 2: Class Book Team
The leader of this team is the book publisher. Like the documentary filmmaker, this is a long-term, behind-the-scenes job that requires the right student to make it successful. Working with the class archivist, who collects all the stories during the year from the story writer, the book publisher produces the class “anthology” with the help of her team. In the same manner that the documentary filmmaker chooses a few students of her choice to help her in this labor-intensive process, the book publisher does the same.
The goal is a collection of stories by the class that can be enjoyed in the last few weeks of the year and during the celebration. The final book can also become part of a growing library that is handed down to future classes, over time building a nice class library that provides a feeling of continuity in your program through the years. To be a younger sibling in a future class and to pick up a book during a reading period that was written by an older sibling is a fine thing indeed, one that speaks of the continuity in your program while sending out the message that screens are not the only things students consider to be valuable in their upbringing, that books count for something as well.
The book can be designed in any way. One suggestion is to put a written L2 story on the right side of each double-page spread and, on the left side, the drawing of the story that was created by the artists. Story credits can be added in a corner of the drawing, listing which students were responsible for the various aspects of the story (i.e. who invented the character, who did the artwork, etc.). The students involved in the publication of the book can honestly then say on any resume or college application packet that they helped write a book or produce a video!
The book publisher might want to add in a version of the story in English on an opposite page, or to underline or highlight words that they think might be difficult for beginner students, and put them in a glossary. There is no single correct format for the class year-end story collection. Its quality and depth, is up to the students in the class.
Team 3: The Celebration Team
In these last two months of the year, the curator has the job of organizing the “Celebration”, which takes place in the last few classes of the year and/or during the final exam. Things for which the curator and her team is responsible include:
(1)  Organizing the nuts and bolts of the show: contacting parents about bringing snacks, making sure that admins and other people in the building are invited, scheduling, etc. and inviting local media to report to the community that this is going on at such and such a school.
(2)  Organizing the Ultimate CI Hall of Fame selection process. At the end of the year, classes enjoy voting on the three best characters of the year, as well as on the best story of the year. The competition between classes is intense and is decided by majority vote. This team organizes how that vote will be cast during the Celebration. Campaigns to select certain characters and stories might happen, with the curator in charge. The students can get pretty competitive on this point. Make up your own categories for this. A few suggested categories are: (a) the cutest character, (b) the kindest character, (c) the meanest character of the year, and (d) the best story. These results are posted on the class website so that year after year you can add to the growing collection of famous or not-so famous characters from each particular year.
(4) The curator also receives the panel drawing of the winning story from the archivist and the written copy of the winning story from the book publisher, which are to be featured as “best of the best” on your class website. The language program in your school will thus have a sense of history to it, and people will be connected from year to year by more than just a table of contents in a textbook but by characters and stories and videos and images – things that are “alive”. Most preciously, memories of the real students who moved through your life are captured through the years.
One thing is clear about the end of year projects – they highlight your program and draw the attention of the people who sign your paycheck, which is a good thing in these insecure times.
It may seem that two months are not enough to complete all three of these projects, but it can be done. A lot has to do with how the groups are formed and who is in each group. Only you can make those decisions. If a certain student disrupts the group, isolate them in the room with worksheets, or do whatever you have to do to corral that child. Too much is at stake, but rarely do language programs have a vehicle to draw a lot of attention to themselves both in and outside (news media, involved parents, district honchos, etc.) your school building.
Everything is published online at the end of the year on the “Hall of Fame” link, which is part of the teacher’s home page/website, and tended to by the Curator, so that you can do what you deserve to be able to do at the end of the year – nothing.
Article 21: Claymation
Julia Lynch was the first to extend the idea of using individually created images into working with clay. Below are some PLC posts she shared with our group. I include all of her articles below because each one reveals the joy and potential and raw creativity that can emerge from working with one word images and individually created images. Whenever our kids create a character, it can be made into clay and shared at the time of the end of year celebrations!

Here are Julia’s messages on how she uses Claymation in her classroom:

Claymation – 1

Hey Ben:

Today was exhilarating. Allowing the kids to be creative, as you say, and giving them purposeful jobs engenders so much goodwill, even among the formerly disengaged punks. There is so much buzz in the halls after today. The other teachers have even heard about what we’re starting from the kids. I will write/post more tomorrow.

Honestly Ben, I used to be jealous of watching you on YouTube. Your kids spoke the language, behavior was on target, and the drawings were so beautiful. I’m feeling now like I can do it!

Kids were staying after class to do this. They’re talking about making a Claymation movie from it.
I love sharing in all this!

Here is our first Claymation project:

Claymation – 2

Hey Ben:

One of my favorite things about this Ultimate CI experience has been seeing kids blossom…those I never knew before. Ironically, my formerly least favorite students are charming now that they have the chance to be.

I am really thinking a lot about how important this Ultimate CI approach could be for at-risk kids, and newcomers to the U.S. In fact, concern for those kids is what led me into education.

Anyway, musings…
On to Day 2 of Invisibles!
To the group I would say, just do it! Of course, it’s scary to start a lesson without a “plan” and there’s some skepticism and failure involved. My first day yesterday was a far cry from what my ideal is from watching you on YouTube, but there is joy now in my teaching and that is the beacon.

My desire to get good at this has less to do with being a good teacher for them as it does experiencing a joyful (part meaningful, part whimsical) day for me.

Claymation – 3

I can hardly believe how well the Ultimate CI books work. Here are a few highlights I want to share with the group:

I walked into class yesterday morning without doing any prep for this. Before CI I spent significant time and effort on lessons that worked ok but I would have to be practically mean to the kids to get them to settle down and do it.
As you can tell from the video I sent yesterday, they’re high energy kids.

So, point 1: NO PREP. Amazing! Scary and amazing.
I’m so proud of the fact that the kids understood me. I once went accidentally out of bounds by saying “he became” instead of “he is” but they always immediately conveyed my words without looking at me. They were so comfortable and happy and playful. I was reminded of how little they still are. (In the other Spanish class they had to do speaking tests yesterday and they were literally hiding from the teacher in the hall.)

Point 2: NO ANXIETY.
I’m proud of myself for trying it, and I’m proud of how slow I’m going. No one complained about the slowness or repetitiveness. I thought that making a movie would be an ordeal, but it was so easy.

Point 3: NO CHAOS.
These three things, prep that led to mediocrity, anxiety for them and me, and chaos in classes were the bane of my existence. Now I can move into the role of a class facilitator. I’m so much more pleasant for them. A couple have started hanging out in my room after school. That is the biggest compliment in the world.
I don’t have this 6th grade for class today, but we will do the readings and dictee on Friday. I invested in Textivate mainly because the admin really likes technology. But too, I do think it’s cool for the kids to see their stories made into activities for them.

P.S. I really appreciate the PLC. It’s a safe space. I don’t use other social media. I’m not comfortable with it.
Article 22: The Interlude
Note: This Phase 4 reading activity is COMPLETELY OPTIONAL and has therefore been placed towards the end of this book.

The Interlude is a special time, an optional extended brain break that happens after the Grammar Discussion activity and before the Reading from the Back of the Room activity of Phase 4.

The intent of the Interlude is to allow the child a chance to absorb even further and in a deeper way the language to which it has been exposed up to that point in their journey around the Star.

The Interlude consists of three activities – the Pantomime, the Dance, and the Development of Imagination.

Interlude Activity 1 – The Pantomime

The Pantomime is led by the teacher, but at some point during the course of the year a student usually claims this job and emerges as the person to lead this activity each time it occurs. This is your Master of Gestures.

What do the kids gesture? They gesture exactly the same gestures that have up to that point been used to establish the tableau or story that was developed in the Create phase from either a student card, one word image or individually created image.

Since language is not just located in the mind, but also in the body, in the Pantomime we get our students’ bodies moving to give them some degree of relief from not moving very much during the day. During this time the language absorbed up to that point in a journey around the Star goes deeper.

Before continuing on with our discussion of the Pantomime, in order to ensure that we are on the same page, let’s talk about the art of gesturing before going deeper into the Interlude.

Whenever a person gestures, even in such a simple action as a wave to someone, it brings something that is inside the mind or heart of the person to the outside, as a visible manifestation of some idea or action.

It’s nice. It’s fun. It connects people to events and actions in the story that is being created. It brings actors in the story closer together. It amplifies understanding. It brings kids together in a shared, movement-based activity.

Gesturing the words in the story “pumps up” the students. It supports meaning while immediately building a sense of trust through fun. Gesturing is a form of learning that is based not in the mind, where things in schools tend to get boring, especially for children who are trying to still maintain contact with their bodies before becoming adults.

Imagine that on his student card Marcus has drawn a picture of himself dancing and that you are now developing that image through the questioning levels. Ask the students “Class, how can we gesture Marcus dances? How can we put it in our bodies so that we remember? Show me dances.”

The students agree on a sign for dancing and then gesture it whenever you say it. It is a natural thing to keep gesturing as you go about the process of building a tableau or story. Gesturing is – or should be – a practice that is always happening in the classroom, but with the student’s focusing constantly on meaning, they notice it but their primary focus is not there. The gesturing thus supports the focus on meaning in almost an unconscious way.

But if you or your students forget to gesture a word or word chunk during class, it is quite normal. There is so much going on! So don’t think, “Oh, I have to remember to do all this other stuff and also remember to gesture the words in the tableau/story.” You simply don’t. If you or the kids remember, it’s all gravy. If you forget, it’s fine. The words that “stick” are the ones you are supposed to gesture.

Note that it’s not only verbs that are assigned gestures – it can also be nouns and other words – anything to aid in comprehension. Just make it fun. There are no hard and fast rules in this work. It’s supposed to be fun. Life is supposed to be fun. Deep breath on that, right?

You will know that the class as a whole has mastered the gestures when you see students gesturing on their own.

Eyes Closed

After deciding on the gesture and having the kids take a few practice reps on it, then do the same with students’ eyes closed. This allows you to check for acquisition.

Once you have a set of 3 words that the students seem comfortable gesturing, you may wish to play a little memory game with them. How does “Eyes Closed” work?

It is very simple. Just tell the kids to close their eyes and then say one word while they gesture it. Then give them two words at a time, and then three. They have to gesture them in the order you said them. It often surprises them how difficult the activity can be.

If they cannot gesture the three words in order, then you probably need to spend some more time practicing the gestures for the specific words with eyes open, then try it again with eyes closed. You will find that if you do this checking with their eyes closed a lot, then they will use the gestures more often in the story. It’s a nice little brain break if nothing else and they seem to enjoy Eyes Closed a lot.


1. Puts meaning into the students’ bodies via the TPR involved, and not just their minds. As such, it is more deeply acquired and thus easier to access later in any part of their journey around the Star during the creation of the story (Phase 1) and the follow-up instruction (Phases 2-5).
2. Is a fun memory game, and it creates an upbeat mood in the classroom right away. The classes develop with laughter and interest, since it is a game.
3. Employs proven ways of increasing memory.
4. Gives auditory practice on the structures.
5. Establishes that the class will be fun.
6. Sends the message that the teacher is fully in charge of the classroom.
7. All the other skills become easier and the class becomes easier to teach simply because of the mood, the overall effect, that gesturing creates.
8. With the “eyes closed” aspect of signing and gesturing mentioned above, the message is sent that every student will need to show knowledge of the structures, as per:

“That’s great, class! Almost all of us have it, but there are still a few who need a little more practice with eyes closed!” The message there is: “We will all learn in this class.”

Susan Wagner Cook

An article in Science Daily (July 28, 2007) describes the work of Susan Wagner Cook in using hand gestures to teach new concepts. Cook’s study indicated that using hand gestures dramatically improves the ability to retain that concept. It turned out to have “a more dramatic effect” than Cook expected.

In this study, 90 percent of students who had learned algebraic concepts using gestures remembered them three weeks later. Only 33 percent of speech-only students who had learned the concept during instruction later retained the lesson. And perhaps most astonishing of all, 90 percent of students who had learned by gesture alone – no speech at all – recalled what they’d been taught.

The link to that article and one that is similar is provided here:

Do remember to avoid telling the students what you think the gesture should be. Ask them to come up with their own offerings, but make sure the class all agrees on what the final chosen gesture is. Attention is drawn to certain kids as we look at what they offer (which can approach slapstick), and invariably we laugh, and higher levels of camaraderie and community are created instantly.

Interlude Activity 2 – The Dance

The Dance is an activity that many teachers will skip, and in many classrooms that is for the best. It is not time, at the time of the writing of this book, to ask students in American secondary school classrooms to dance. Why? It is because most of them can’t.

It’s nobody’s fault. Our students mainly sit inside school buildings and that’s the way it is. It’s what they are told so it’s what they do. This of course is true except for the younger ones, whose hearts remain pure and whose egos are not tainted by fear of ridicule, and whose teachers invite movement. But if you teach secondary school kids, let them skip the Dance. A few middle or high school kids may want to do it, and when they do invite and applaud their bravery.

In the Dance, the children bring the story alive through dance as they listen to your voice recount what has happened up to that point in class. The Dance is really just an increased level of the gesturing done just before – it’s an augmentation of that first Interlude activity.

How is it done? Here are some steps:

1. Locate yourself off to the side of the screen.
2. Looking up at the (already projected) text with your students, start reading it.
3. An option here is to choose to NOT read the text aloud and just let the students look up at the screen and interpret what they read as dance with no uniformity of gestures and movement. That is probably the best way to do it.
4. The children, instead of just reading the text as they have in the previous four reading activities up to the point of the Interlude, both read it and, by gesturing as much of the projected text as they can, start dancing it.
5. If you have hired a competent and entertaining Dance Master, place them in front of the group between the students and the screen, to model the behaviors.

Believe it or not, this activity is the beginning of speech output. When the kids read while gesturing and dancing the text, the words continue to push deeper into their deeper/unconscious minds and into the cells of the body, and before you know it, as long as you don’t force it, the kids will start speaking.

In the same way, a flower bed full of seeds will emerge from the ground naturally when everything is ready, and as long as the little sprouts aren’t pulled out of the bed, they end up pushing themselves out of the ground on their own. This is how speech output occurs in CI instruction – without force.

While you restate the story from your position standing off to the side of the screen, the kids look up at the projected text and give it expression via their bodies.

There are no rules here, as always. Ideally, the kids who choose to dance simply get up out of their seats and dance. You don’t even have to read the text, since the kids can read it. You can dance too! The Dance Master is there to model the gestures and the kids try follow the Dance Master. Everyone has to leave their egos at the door and take the risks that we all know we must take place if are ever going to change the state of WL education as it exists now, and make it more fun and go deeper, because language really is in part physical.

Let’s now move into the Part 3 of the Interlude, the Development of Imagination part.

Interlude Activity 3 – Development of Imagination via Suggestopedia

There is a way of learning languages that involves brain wave changes and yogic breathing. The method is called Suggestopedia and is a powerful tool to learn languages.

I will keep this description of this way of teaching a foreign language brief, only giving basic relevant information. For those language teachers who may want to explore it, I recommend a book entitled Superlearning, by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder (Dell, Mar 07, 2012).

Suggestopedia is a teaching method developed by the Bulgarian psychotherapist Georgi Lozanov. It is used mostly to learn foreign languages, but it is also used in peak-performance sports visualization programs.

I used Superlearning with positive results in the 1980s while teaching coaching in South Carolina. The school I was working in was innovative, with parents who wanted more than just the same old same old, and with whom parent-teacher communication was good. Given the green light there, for a number of years I followed the ideas in the book mentioned above. What did it involve?

Again, to keep things very simple and since I am not a scientist, but as I understand it, we want to slow down the heart rate of the kids by placing them in a relaxed state. The children lie on the floor, doing deep diaphragmatic breathing. As the students relax, the breath automatically slows down the heart rate, and the brain wave changes that result have a huge effect on the retention of previously understood comprehensible input.

The students’ brain waves slow from those found in their normal waking state (about 22 cycles per second), and when their brain waves have moved down to about 14 cycles per second, they are in what is called the “alpha state.” It is in this state that the brain becomes highly absorptive to whatever language it is exposed.

While first researching all this, I tried Suggestopedia out on some summer school students. One student, who had failed French twice and was desperate to graduate, recounted an event to our class that really got my attention.

After working with Suggestopedia for a week in that summer school class, the boy then went that weekend from Columbia, SC to Atlanta to watch a Braves baseball game. As he was standing in line for a ticket, he reported that his mind suddenly became flooded with a minute or two of non-stop French. He said he had no control over it, and that the words were all of the words we had used in class that week. He didn’t say them – they just flooded his brain.

Other students in that class reported similar but less dramatic results.

Because of the nature of the work, you may wish to not pursue it. Whether you do so will depend not only on your own interest in it, and also on the degree of openness your school has in encouraging teachers to explore new ideas. If you decide to go ahead and use it in your own teaching, just make sure that you do it specifically according to the way that the Superlearning book explains, and that you have the support of your administrative staff.

If teachers request, I can make a video of how I used to teach using Suggestopedia, explaining how the brain wave slowing down process works.


To conclude our discussion about the Interlude, we can say that the Interlude is a way of testing, changing and bringing reform to our profession. It provides for our students a more body/mind-based approach to language instruction instead of ones based on memorization so that they can do what is really very important when learning a language according to the research – having our awareness centered in the body, and simply relaxing the mind and focusing on the message.

It’s so simple, but by trapping the work of language acquisition in the mind, we’ve blown it. We’ve tried for far too long to get our students to memorize and think their way to command of the language. It’s like making yoga students read books to learn the postures. Now it’s time for us to change our instruction to align with the research.

If you use the Pantomime, the Dance and/or the Suggestopedia pieces, know that your students will benefit from your decision to do so. If our students are not relaxed and focused on the message while in our classrooms, then they won’t be aligned with the research, with known results.

Just remember that the Interlude is completely optional and will not be perceived as innovative in many schools, those schools where language education still has its feet dragging slowly and sadly through textbook-connected approaches used in the last century.
Article 23: Pear Deck – Have Students Vote on an ICI Digitally.
In the link below, Madi Cabral offers a way to add some digital interaction to the slides that you create with your students in an online instructional format if you are forced to do that by COVID or for any other reason. It’s called Pear Deck. Once you get the hang of the app it could be a great way to have students vote on an ICI digitally.
Article 24: A Lengthy Discussion of Language Teaching and COVID-19

The thoughts and prayers presented below were written in the middle of the COVID pandemic. They reflect a kind of thinking about our profession that predicts a different future for us and our students than what many of us might be thinking will emerge from the pandemic. As in so many other areas of American society, our profession will experience no return to normal. There will be no more normal. Indeed, what we did in our language classrooms before COVID was not normal at all, but was, in fact, an embarrassment. What we did before did not align with the research or the standards. It will all be brand new, and good riddance to the old. Good riddance!

Our Mental Health During the Time of COVID

The mental health of many people in our profession is unraveling before our very eyes. Many are retiring early, quitting, etc. There is no small amount of mental suffering involved. You know what is happening because you are in the middle of it.

As per an important point made earlier in this book, we must accept that we are never going to come close to teaching our students anything more than a fraction of the language. This is in spite of what the College Board would have us believe to keep rapidly burning-out teachers all over the country from contributing to their coffers in the form of the AP Exam and other standardized testing programs that drive the profit-based educational system in place in the U.S. today.

The testing industry will of course continue to grab the money even at the expense of the mental and physical well-being of the teachers and students who drive the massive corporate ruse forward. That’s what industry does. What do we as teachers get back? We do all this work in exchange for exactly what?

We teachers very often think that we need the approval of those whom we work for. We don’t. We are independent contractors who come and go to and from schools in order to do work for a certain time and then we move on. We owe less to our schools than we think. Now, with COVID, our physical health has been put on the line. Therefore – in order to protect ourselves – we must think in a new way.

Back to the point of this article: we think quite wrongly – at the expense of our own well-being – that we should actually do what the AP exams and the testing industry, etc. want us to do.

We should not do it. It has absolutely nothing to do with our abilities and talents as teachers. We should not do it because what we are being asked to do is impossible. We should never do what corporate interests want us to do because of the research that says that we only have a fraction of the time we need. (See the numbers below for the specifics of this massive corporate rip-off that we don’t seem to really understand.)

We scratch and claw and plan and all too often fail, under extreme and various kinds of relentless pressure. No matter how much we plan, we often fail because we can never speak slowly enough; we can never relax enough in the stress cauldrons that our buildings have always been. Why? It is, because our students will never hear enough language – not through any fault of your own – for them to be able to do well on those standardized exams. This is a game rigged for the few and against the many.

Look at the numbers below, meditate on them, internalize them, and then never forget for one moment as you work yourself to the bone that language teaching is a game that we cannot win, a financial game of “Gotcha!” controlled largely by the testing industry where we literally are incapable of even coming close to teaching the things that they want us to teach. They know this, but they would lose too much money if they revamped their products to reflect the real and actual needs of language students in America.

The industry doesn’t care if our students learn what is in their books – they could care less. Their goal is dollars and we literally buy into this controlling game. The testing industry controls our professional lives, and cannot exist without making many of our students into losers

Here are the numbers, first for modern languages:

10,000 hours of exposure are suggested by the research as necessary for mastery of a language, whatever that term means. Therefore, with only 20 hours in place in most level one classes by October, for example, your students will have heard the language only 0.002 (two thousandths) of the time needed for mastery.

For those instructors of Mandarin Chinese and other non-Latin-based languages, the figure of 24,000 hours for mastery is obviously more than double the 10,000 hours required for modern languages. From this we can deduce that we and especially Mandarin teachers can do little more in our programs than simply try to get our students to want to continue on in the future with the language. And from that statement we can further deduce that if we buy into the stacked testing game, then we are either stupid or crazy or both.

Most of us right now are failing miserably to align our instruction with the research. Schools, in much the same way that we fail to train police officers properly, hire teachers who don’t even know that the research exists. The results are that most language teachers fail to align their testing with the research. Why do we allow that to happen to us? Are our children not very important in the grand scheme of our lives as parents?

Why, like the Tarot fool who strides with such confidence over dangerous cliffs, would we ever stress ourselves out to such an absurd degree, trying to do something that no human being could possibly do – achieve some kind of score on some kind of test that claims (quite falsely) to accurately measure what children have learned in your classroom?

Reset your mind. Protect yourself. Read the research. Help your students build confidence in themselves as language learners. Help them grow up. Isn’t that our goal in education? Do what you can to help them build confidence in themselves. Challenge the very existence of the testing industry, which takes such a toll on the slower processors in our language classrooms. It is time for that challenge to happen, on behalf of all.

COVID-19 and Online Language Instruction

With the arrival of COVID into our lives in 2020, many of us suddenly considered teaching a language online difficult and awkward. Many of us started to say that if only we could get back into our physical classrooms with our students, everything would be just fine. Things could get back to “normal”.

The implication of this way of thinking is that everything we were doing in our physical classrooms before COVID-19 was just fine and now with COVID everything is messed up.

This is simply not true. Everything was messed up before. The online instruction brought by COVID merely exposed the long-overlooked and consciously-ignored fact that language teaching has never worked in the United States, or for that matter anywhere in the world.

Everything was not fine before COVID. It was a mess. To put into a few sentences what in reality really would require an entire book to fully explore, we weren’t teaching in alignment with the standards before COVID, nor were we teaching in alignment with the research.

Our students, including the few high achievers, achieved only a fraction of what they could had we successfully aligned our instruction with the standards and the research, i.e. had we done our jobs differently and taught using a robust version of comprehensible input and not the watered-down versions that have appeared since the fall of TPRS in about 2010.

Everybody knows this, but few are saying or doing anything about it. To say it again, to let it sink in: our pre-COVID instruction didn’t work, but we had gotten into such a comfortable relationship with it that it became a new normal for us, and nothing more than “watered-down comprehensible input”. It was inefficient and boring for both us and our students.

Back in our physical classrooms, before COVID, why did we teach with such little respect for the standards and the research? The answer is simple. The invisible pressure to march in lock-step with the 100-year-old textbook-based curricular model in our profession caused most of us – because of the valueless fascination with outdated testing models – to never really figure out how to teach in alignment with the research. We never learned how to do it right.

Now, teachers who are new to CI are being told by a new breed of faux internet experts in the field to mix the purity of CI with the stink of the textbook and it’s not working out too well.

What mixing? The current version of CI has become a hybrid of Krashen’s research and the textbook, with its thematic units, semantic sets, high frequency verb/word lists, and lists of words needed to read those ineffective “novels” – ineffective in the sense that they favor the few. We can’t do that. We must now regain possession of the ball by separating comprehensible input from the textbook model.

The fact that many of us could not make the “novels” work is not our fault. The CI world got sold a bill of goods with those novels, to the profit of a few. I won’t go into it here. It’s too long a topic. I’ve written about it elsewhere.

Moreover, we have never in any meaningful way aligned with the Communication standard of our national parent organization, ACTFL, nor have we ever sufficiently aligned with the most important supporting document of the Communication standard – the Three Modes of Communication. To say it again, we haven’t aligned with the research and the standards.

From 1995 to 2010, the TPRS movement paved the way for a healthy version of CI. It was on its way. Then, from 2010 to now, something happened. CI leaders started talking about book sales, even to the point of putting glossaries in the backs of their books, modeling readers printing in the 1960s and 1970s. How is that new?

The TPRS shift into a kind of hybrid – people now call it CI – with traditional textbook teaching greatly reduced its effectiveness and its pedagogical integrity while driving some teachers back to the textbook from sheer confusion. Now, teachers scour the internet frantically buying “activity packets” that allow them to use CI to teach a certain grammar concept – to prepare for an upcoming common assessment. That’s not CI – not even close.

So, when COVID hit and teachers were forced to conduct their classrooms in online settings, everything about teaching a language caved in. The quickly unraveling rope connecting our language instruction with our students snapped. What was that rope made of? It was largely made of boring and fake “communication” with most of its emphasis being on testing and memorization, which cannot work in an online setting so splat went the old ways.

The only reason traditional language teaching lasted that long before going splat when COVID arrived is that the students were in a physical classroom that they could not legally walk out of. They needed the credit, so they endured the following:

1. emotional and intellectual distance from the teacher and others in the classroom.
2. no authentic communication in the TL, grossly conflicting, again, with the standard.
3. out-of-control testing based on memorization.
4. teachers who never had the best interests of all of their students at heart, who instead put most of their energy into teaching the few instead of the many.
5. An unfortunate kind of “baked-in” assumption that only the smart kids can succeed, when all people are perfectly wired to acquire languages.

So, isn’t it about time for testing to stop being the main motivating factor for “learning” in secondary school language classrooms?

The fact is that language teachers over the decades have done little more than insult their students’ language acquisition capacities. The result has been that, after the one or two-year requirement has been met, the students fairly run out of the classroom, most of them with little intention of ever trying to learn a language again, because the teacher in very subtle ways bashed the confidence and interest of too many of them. I call that professional malpractice approaching emotional abuse.

My advice in the light of all this new – if not welcome – information is to first seriously consider if any part of the above message might be true, and then, if you find any truth in it, set about changing what you do as a language teacher. This article should be viewed as a call to action to fix what has been broken in every corner of our profession for at least a half century.

You just should not do what you used to do in the post-COVID world. You should not use the textbook anymore. You can’t take a little bit of CI and a lot of the textbook (including the readers) and mix them and expect your instruction to work, especially now online.

Computer programs don’t work online and you know it. Buying “CI activity packets” online from the new brand of CI “experts” out there is proving to be both costly and ineffective and they certainly don’t work online.

Do something new.

I once said it this way:

With stories, teaching a language successfully is very difficult, but it reaches most students. Without stories, success is virtually impossible, and reaches only a few bright kids. You have to pick one of these. If you pick the first, you align with 21st century standards. If you pick the second, you align with nothing. You do, however, convey the illusion to lots of kids that they can’t learn a language. Don’t do that anymore.

Setting Realistic Goals for the Post-COVID Online Classroom

Here are some realistic goals that you may want to consider looking at after COVID is over (to the extent that it will be):

1. Instead of stressing out about how much grammar you can teach your language students, learn to relax and just communicate with them in ways that tap into the great potential of simple human verbal interaction, also known as comprehensible input.
2. Instead of paying primary attention to the needs of the few among your students who are going to college, make up your mind to reach all your students. It can be done! The future of our profession lies in what is best for all our students, and not just the few. Let’s stop using college as an excuse for teaching only the few.
3. Instead of continuing to buy into the false narrative that teaching is all about planning, endless planning, accept the good news that has finally arrived that we can teach a language with no planning in a way that does not harm our minds and bodies in the form of endless stress. This is also possible!
4. The research, and especially Dr. Krashen’s Natural Order of Acquisition hypothesis, reveals a massive contradiction between how people acquire languages and the testing piece. So, instead of buying into the false narrative that testing is a necessity in a language program, stop buying that old and worn-out line of faulty reasoning and wake up and figure out a way to find out what your students know that does not conflict with the research.
5. Better yet, to fully align with what the research says about how people acquire languages, don’t test them at all. In our field, it doesn’t really make any sense. Evaluate them, yes, but not via traditional methods.
6. Instead use a formative approach to testing that doesn’t shame kids for not being able to memorize useless things. This is easily done if you open your mind up to it. It’s how we evaluate our students in the Ultimate CI approach – no tests per se, but lots of easy quizzes so that if your students just pay attention during class they can succeed. This includes ALL of them.
7. Instead of believing that only the “smart” kids (i.e. usually white kids of privilege) can master a language, change your thinking and try to understand what the research practically screams at us – that all human beings can easily master another language as long as they simply are exposed to enough comprehensible input, to enough understandable messages.
8. Instead of working in fear of administrators, most of whom have almost no knowledge of how people learn languages and who use evaluation instruments on us that don’t even apply to the work we do, learn to provide them with the information they seek without being afraid of what they might say about your teaching. If they don’t understand comprehensible input, then they have no knowledge of how languages are acquired and therefore are not qualified to evaluate you. Just provide them with what they want and leave the stress out of the equation.
9. Instead of looking back in despair at your train wreck of a career (it has been a train wreck for all of us – except the many unconscious teachers who shouldn’t be in classrooms anyway) look forward in happy anticipation to the wonderful future that awaits us in our profession, as we slowly begin to peel away the many levels of the CI onion and make the hard but meaningful changes that are at hand now in language teaching.
10. Instead of leaving them to heartless, robotic teachers who don’t really care much about their jobs except in the paycheck and benefits that it provides, hang in and make the tough changes that we now have to do as a result of COVID. Learn how to teach in alignment with the research and the standard. That’s all you have to do and it can be done!

What to do? I offer one proven way to meet the challenges that COVID has delivered to our door: take the online Ultimate CI Book Zoom classes and read the books. They will bring about the change you want. They will allow you to finally enjoy teaching a language, without planning, without all the confusion and depression that have colored the lives of so many of us over recent decades, whether we are in our classrooms or online.

The Ultimate CI Book Zoom program will change what you do in your online classroom and how you do it. The result will be that you won’t have to quit your job or continue on in unspoken despair, because you and your students will have moved to a new level of communication and trust in your online setting. This is the promise of the Ultimate CI Book Zoom program.

Laura Avila on COVID

Laura writes:

Hi Ben,

I’ve browsed through some of the postings and comments on your blog after the closure of schools. One comment from you resonates in my mind and I paraphrase that the future of the teaching of FL will be online.

Maybe you are right, and that is the sad direction we are moving in, a regression. What I can say from my experience in online “teaching,” is that there can’t ever be true acquisition of a language without face-to-face interaction. Maybe some learning/memorization can occur, but it never sticks.

I have explored everything that I think there is to explore in trying to come up with assignments for my classes at each level. I produce assignments, but I think they are a joke, a box we are all checking: for me to justify still getting paid; for my students to justify their grade; for the parents to keep their kids busy doing something that is not playing video-games or banging around the house. All a charade, in my opinion. It is what we do because we have no other choice, given the current circumstances.

I have either checked, used, or created different resources for “busy time,” The following comments are only my own opinion:

Duolingo is shameful. I have tried it with other languages far from the Romance languages, such as Norwegian and Arabic. You advance from level to level thinking you are doing great, but at the end nothing really sticks, everything is so out of context that you can’t remember a full sentence about anything. No human interaction. A box checked.

Another shameful resource is Fluency Fast, with their expensive packets of readings with activities and quizzes. It looks good for administrators and checking a box. My district was willing to pay for this, but I would be ripping them off if I had written a purchase order. Their product is based on a class reading the same book that I would have to choose. No student choice for what they feel comfortable reading. No reflection of what you say about how the novels are a rip-off in disguise. No human interaction. A box checked.  

Then there are short videos, audios etc. I have created listening assignments with my voice, used other’s narrations of stories, adapted videos into slideshows, readings with activities, you name it. Maybe with some luck, some students will remember in September what they were able to acquire before the shutdown. But as far as growth, the growth in acquisition that I was counting on seeing in June to lead us into the next year, that is impossible for online “teaching.”

Online “teaching” also leaves behind the slow processors, the ones that need to hear and read the language much more than the rest, the ones that are in my class because they feel good, accepted and part of the group (human interaction in community) but don’t see themselves doing anything with Spanish, not just after the year ends, but right after the bell rings.

Finally, some might see the future of foreign language instruction in video conferencing settings like Zoom. This is another fallacy in thinking, if we actually want acquisition. Maybe the grammar teachers can make this (or the flipped class) work. There is no need for face-to-face interaction in that kind of language instruction. You present the content and students can ask questions while in the video conference and then do work on their own.

Without human interaction we can only expect to perpetuate the teaching models we’ve had up to now: exposition of content and, to quote Alisa Shapiro-Rosenburg, “workshits.” But maybe this is the only true possibility for foreign language education in a typical school system. I am one of three language teachers in my department, the only one who teaches with your materials. I have a truck load of students, between 40-50% more than my French colleague textbook teacher.

I know also that many of my students don’t take my classes because they prefer having the security of a teacher who uses a textbook, preferring memorization and a robotic plan to the human interaction that CI instruction requires. They don’t want to be bothered by having to make eye contact (God forbid!).

There are many such students and teachers throughout this country who can’t handle that lack of control. So you might be right about the direction teaching will take after COVID-19, but it certainly won’t mean acquiring a language.


Some Thoughts on COVID-19 and the Future of Our Profession

So much is going to change in our profession as a result of COVID-19! And a lot of it is good! A lot of lies about our profession will be exposed!

We will move more and more to using the internet, as schools go in that direction in general. Physically showing up for class will not happen as much as it did before COVID. This will reveal weaknesses in the way we have been doing things in our language classrooms. How?

Students in the past have been mostly motivated by a grade. That is our history. Our classes have not been rooted in the standard of Communication and in the research that that says that people acquire languages without being aware of it, without thinking, unconsciously.

The term comprehensible input has now been usurped by the new CI marketplace and by language teachers who either don’t know or lie about their pedagogy in order to be perceived as up-to-date.

The students are not to be blamed. They are bombarded all day with busywork that makes no real sense to them, nor does it bring any joy to them. Why, then, should their boring language class that STILL INVOLVES MEMORIZATION be something that they get excited about, especially online?

Some of us will lose our jobs within the next five to ten years. Why?

1. Our field has always been the red-headed step sister, elective-level (read “unimportant”) classes in our buildings. We’ve always been right up there with shop class, which probably has brought more value to kids than what many of us have brought to them.
2. With many states beginning to award foreign language credits towards graduation for computer coding classes, which they are starting to label – not incorrectly – as languages, we will lose a huge number of students. We can’t have jobs without students.
3. We have to admit at some point that the only real value that foreign language classes have in most school buildings is as a place to put students whose schedules prevent them from being put anywhere else.
4. The only reason we have kept our jobs for so long so far is that our students have been in the classroom physically with us, and thus, because they cannot leave, have been forced to “pay attention.”  

These factors will chip away at our job security in the post-COVID-19 era. And with physical travel to the actual classroom, which was the only “ace-in-the-hole” that we had, the only thing that really allowed us to keep and maintain our control over our students, the physical proximity piece, will be gone. 

It won’t happen immediately. Instead, there will be a gradual dissolution of the entire system that will happen slowly enough to go unnoticed, but then there it will be, with us wondering if we should have re-tooled into another profession a lot earlier.

The bottom line is that we must get better at holding our students’ attention, something we are not known for in language instruction.

We Are Innovators and COVID is Helping Us to Innovate

We take the data-collection piece of our work as a true and valid thing. It is not. We are serving a monster – the data collection business that makes millions of dollars off of us and our kids each year. It is sucking our souls, vampire-like, and we are letting it. COVID is here as an agent of change, to help us.

Each and every teacher reading this must absolutely understand and keep in the forefront of their minds the following points:

1. If any teachers trying to master CI perceive themselves in even the slightest way as failing at this work, then they need to know for a fact that they are not failing at all. They are valiant and courageous innovators, whose belief in what is possible has driven them to take risks.
2. How can any of us criticize ourselves for not being great at this work with CI when we are so alone philosophically, with pressure to perform and align with old ideas that don’t work, when each day we are surrounded somewhere by hostile people who are still tied to the outmoded grinding methods of the past.
3. We are also surrounded by ignorant administrators (ignorant in the French sense of “not knowing”) forcing us into awkward situations professionally? COVID is here as an agent of change, to destroy the past institutions of our profession, for the betterment of humanity. It’s not our fault, because we have such little support!
4. We are also surrounded as well by students who have had the curiosity sucked out of them by a failed system so that they only think in terms of credits and the grade, and who are the victims of screen poisoning in their educations as well. COVID is here as an agent of change for them, too.
5. This is not the time to be taking your own inventory by judging yourself negatively in this work. The success lies not in the results, but in the effort, the intent. COVID is here as an agent of change to help us.
6. Keep in mind that most of us here in this group are probably motivated by the highest of ideals, as expressed so beautifully by Soren Kierkegaard here:

…if I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the sense
of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible….

There are not enough of us yet, but the tide is turning. Stay strong. Just don’t believe everything they tell you about how to teach, testing, all of it. Don’t believe it. Trust yourself, learn to relax, do the best you can with CI, and if you are a praying person, it’s time now.

Stay Strong!

As we crawl under the barbed wire of COVID, keeping ourselves going, hoping we’ll make it, I have been reflecting on how much good is coming out of the crisis.

One of the most noticeable changes for me is that I now clearly see – very clearly by comparison – how dark our teaching has been for decades. We have always favored the few while making thousands of kids think that they were bad at languages.

We were missing much about the research, about language education, about community. We were focusing to an inordinate degree on testing. We were twisting CI to fit the textbook. Some of us were downright mean. Many kids hated going to our classes. That was dark stuff.

I’m welcoming the light now. I can’t quite see it yet, since it is just first light in our profession, but I’m feeling it all the same.

Fight on. Fight on.

I refuse to let the current molders of education, esp. right now, influence my mood. We will eventually break down the old curriculum, and happiness and unforced communication will newly define our days doing our jobs.

Yes, we have been slaves to the corporate view of what education should look like, their need to make of us a market.

But we will defeat the corps. Something new, a very loving and giving version of language education where happiness pervades, is on its way to us.

Do not despair – I say to my colleagues that we will gain our freedom from hopelessness that many of us endure as language teachers. Stay the course, be part of we how are now finally redefining language education and stay strong.

The new curriculum will be the language – pure and simple.

All will be well. The darkest hour is always just before the dawn. Battle hard.



Sometimes the only thing left after you’ve done your best is to pray. Below are some prayers I have offered up to God over the period of COVID.

COVID Prayer – 1

Dearest God,

Your teachers down here are hurting right now. We know you know that. We just need to say it.

This crisis has us scared – scared for our jobs, scared whether we can teach online, scared in general.

We’re not just scared. We’re tired. It just seems as if there is lots of darkness now. Not physical darkness. Your heart-sun shines on us every day. Of course that is true.

It’s some other kind of darkness. It’s a kind of darkness based in fear.

Many of us became language teachers because, ironically, we saw it as an opportunity to work with our special languages, such pearls to us, while at the same time helping you provide for our families. Not a bad deal.

At least, we should be able to enjoy ourselves while doing our jobs, right? Is not language beautiful? How can anything you made not be beautiful?

COVID Prayer – 2

Languages are so beautiful, and you made up so many of them, all of them like beads on the string of a glorious and shiny necklace that you made and wear just for us, as a way to draw us closer.

They are, these beads you made, of the best quality. They are beads of sound for our mouths, of light for our eyes, of solace for our ears: the mix, the mix of languages. When used properly (i.e. with respect for each other), we feel closer to you.

We don’t need to know why you gave us these languages. Maybe you invented them not so much as a gift, but just to keep things interesting for yourself, since you are everything. We could probably never figure it out. The only thing for us to do, therefore, is to ask you to help us, in your mercy.

Help us get better at using comprehensible input language teaching, directly or online, whatever you decide.
Is that not what languages really are? Something you created to keep yourself from getting bored? Languages are some of your best work! I’m a big admirer! When I hear another language being spoken by someone who is not using it to impress, I melt inside, stunned by what you have created.

COVID Prayer – 3

So many thoughts rush into my mind when it tries to figure out what languages are, and why on earth you ever made them. But one thing is certain. One thing I know for certain. Languages are beautiful, just as you are beautiful beyond beauty itself, and that is why we must learn to teach them as beautifully (i.e. with as much artfulness and love and respect for our students) as we can.

But, back to the point of this conversation with you, teaching some of those kids of today is not always beautiful. And now this new COVID thing is hard and confusing and kind of scary, to tell you the truth, ye who are the Truth and who already knows all this.

Comprehensible input has been a pain, I gotta say. Ain’t gonna lie. What even is it? Can it even work in an online setting? That is what I want to know. Can it work in the age of COVID? What are we supposed to do?

Even in our classrooms, it’s been a kind of gnarly game of tug-of-war between us and our kids and our colleagues and the kids’ parents and a whole bunch of people who, very frustratingly to us, don’t know what we know about those beads around your neck.

And now, we are supposed to try to reflect the brightness and beauty of those beads through a computer? That’s like asking a robot to dance and sing Begin the Beguine! Hmmm….


COVID Prayer – 4

Dear God –

It’s really been more than a tug-of-war. It’s been like a war. Why has the natural process of acquiring our first language – you’ve done a great design there, by the way – become such an exercise in futility? Only you know how it got this way. But get this way it did! So what should we do now with COVID?

Before COVID, it pleased you to show us how to teach a language using comprehensible input, after all those years of futile textbook teaching. It gave us hope. Back in those days, it was really bad, but it kind of seemed all right. That was because the students from families with money memorized what they were supposed to, and those without the money just didn’t get into our classes, and it all worked all right at the time.

We weren’t thinking then about the equity piece. We weren’t aware of how many students were suffering, suffering, suffering because of our elite -oriented instruction, which was for the few. You are for everyone, so why can’t our instruction be for everyone?

At least we have jobs. Thank you for that. But what about all those millions of kids across the globe who have for so long now felt the sting of failure, the shame of being judged as not good at learning a language. What about that?

Maybe that is what COVID means for language teachers. Maybe COVID is here because we have forgotten what you want us to be – loving, non-judging, full of compassion for our students, as you are full of compassion for us.

There is no doubt in my mind and in my heart that we have forgotten most of the kids, favoring only the few. We taught the few.

COVID Prayer – 5

But now it’s pretty clear that you want this all to change. I welcome the change away from favoring only the privileged in American education, of dismissing the masses of kids who don’t measure up to the few. That’s not who we are. Not here. Not in the United States.

It is my guess that you want ALL of your children to be able to climb up onto your divine knees and reach up and grab that beautiful necklace and put it in their little hands and stare at the beautiful jewels on there and see all that light reflecting through it, all that light in all those languages, all that poetry, all that culture, all that architecture, all that dance all that love, all that human sharing that are sparklingly you.

You know all this, of course. We just need to say it out loud here, to remind ourselves of things you never forget because you invented them. We just don’t know what to do to make our jobs work right now. We just want to reach out and tug at the hem of your garment, or rather clutch, even grab onto you for dear life right now.

COVID Prayer – 6

The model for our work as language teachers was always there – your Madonna and Child – but we missed it and put this work, this crazy work we all do for you, up in our heads and we tried to teach your jewel-gifts, your languages, by making our kids do worksheets and think about it instead of playfully swimming about in it. Those worksheets didn’t work and now we have comprehensible input and thanks for that but comprehensible input online? Yikes!

It’s not working for a lot of us and hence this supplication, this prayer, this need to just talk to you about it, to lay it all out, to tell you that some of us are really hurting, if for no other reason than just to say it.

So many of us were trying so hard to reach a lot of kids with our stories before the crisis. We were having some success. We liked the stories, and sometimes the kids like them as well, pretty much. They kind of worked. Thank you. But now what? Just askin’ for a friend….

COVID Prayer – 7

Too often now, it seems, more every day, that that dang darkness creeps in, a little more each day since the crisis began, and there’s that word again – tired.

The darkness used to creep in a little. Now it’s creeping in a lot. You didn’t design languages to be taught through machines, but through physical proximity, through each other.

It seems like now there is a big wedge between us and our students. And we keep trying to figure it out, because we know we were meant to point to your necklace, to draw attention to it, thereby pointing to you, because what is more important than that? And now here we are just laying it all at your feet because we don’t know what else to do.

Oh, please help us Lord. We are scared and it’s dark and we are tired and it’s all changing so fast in our profession. We look around the battlefield and so many of us have taken big hits, have fallen, or are about to. Many of us can’t afford to fall right now.

And what to do about those who value money and prestige over what is best for the kids? We are so divided amongst ourselves, about the best way to teach. Enemies seem to be everywhere – ignorant administrators and willful students and envious colleagues and hovering parents and experts who lie.

COVID Prayer – 8

Some of us are lying wounded with varying degrees of injuries, the mental kind of injuries that take so long to heal. It’s hard to work when our minds don’t work as well as they used to. Help us find solace from our teaching injuries in you.

Let your will be done in this and all things. If you are going to rock us with COVID, rock us with COVID. Let us remember that you love us more than we could ever hope to love you and so to accept whatever COVID brings.
Help us remember to trust in you. Just trust in you and things will be all right? OK – we’ll do it! We have no other choice. Thanks for the reminder. We’ll just do that. We know that we can totally count on your divine grace to get us out of this, and you will, but not on our terms. On your terms. Your terms are, in the long, always the best for us.

And if there is no big solution here in response to our prayers, we know nevertheless that you will get us out of this somehow, sometime, how and when you wish. It’s a good feeling to know that. We always need a reminder that you’ve got everything under control, and this COVID thing is waking up a lot of people. You are clever beyond anything we can imagine.

COVID Prayer – 9

It feels a little lighter now. Maybe we can really do it. Whether we win or not, all that is up to you, as the outcome of every battle is up to you. The outcome of every attempt is up to you. The outcome of every failure is up to you. Help us in this crisis to do our best for you. We know that that is all you are asking of us, but we just needed to be reminded of it.

It’s like the end of a sporting contest and we are down and beat up and hurting, lying in the mud, bloodied up, but not giving up hope, not giving in to despair. We can do that. But you have to help us. Maybe that’s what this prayer is about. Actually, that IS what this prayer is all about. Just help us. I know you can’t NOT help us, as that is one aspect of your divinity, that your grace and protection is with us always. But we just needed to ask you again. We forget….

We started this prayer by asking you to show us a possible way out of the darkness of what is going on, and now, having prayed to you, we see that perhaps what we need isn’t to know the way out, but rather just to have the courage to stay in and fight, and most importantly, to trust that we are here doing this work – work that you have made clear is no game for the weak or faint-hearted – for a very good reason that you know and that we don’t have to know.

COVID Prayer – 10

So thank you for renewing our courage today, Lord. Thank you for reminding us to just put our trust in you each day and get up and brush off the wounds of the previous day and get back to work.

Trusting in you is the motto of our country, after all. Thanks for the reminder! Thanks for helping us back this COVID fear up and see it for what it is – something you are using to push us forward! Thank you for picking us up and brushing us off through the miracle of sleep, this coming night and every night, so that we can rest well each night, ready to do your work the best we can the next day!

We can continue to do our best for you. We can. But only with your divine guidance and help and by our remembering to talk to you occasionally like this. Remind us to do so often! And thanks for listening. It’s all about listening! You, of course, are the supreme modeler of that! Who listens better than you? Who wants to help us more than you? No one.

You will help us. We know it. It’s not about how good we are at CI. It’s not about how well we teach online or how well we teach when we go back into our classrooms. It’s about showing up and trying. Help us remember that. Your reminders aren’t always pleasant on the surface, but they come from you, so how could they not be for our highest good overall?

Thank you, Friend, Guidance Counselor and Protector. Lord hear our prayer. We know that you are an on-time God.