To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



29 thoughts on “Interview”

  1. I flat out enjoy teaching Spanish and I get paid for it too! But, I don’t enjoy teaching students who don’t want to learn or don’t care if they learn. So I pursued this endless quest: first, the get the best and highest level of HS Spanish (Sp4, Sp5, AP). But no one gets only the “best” courses to teach. They get spread out so that other dedicated teachers get rewarded too. Then there is the pecking order. Last in gets “slim pickin’s” ; )
    Then I discovered 6th grade Spanish. Compliant as all get out (at least in the suburbs) with a real interest in acquiring the language… until we ruin them through boredom with paradigms and endless memorizations of lists that they forget over the summer or even worse, over December, winter, or spring break.
    So, my hope is that my sometimes clever antics, loving personality, and interesting cultural learning projects keep them engaged or coming back for more language learning, yet not acquiring. So, I kept looking, as I do each year for more magic to ad to my bag of tricks.
    Then, a couple of months ago I decided to research TPRS/CI that I discovered a few years ago, but never looked into. The research was intriguing and the videos I saw were amazing. I began devouring the materials, demo videos, and instructional texts by people like Ben Slavic and decided to go for it.
    After 2 weeks I’m loving it and so are the students.

    1. See the thing I object to, and it’s something that we all created and should own, is this idea that the level four kids are the best ones. There is no such thing as a “best” student when it is proven that anyone can acquire a language given enough comprehensible input.

      So the shift we are now in, and it’s been happening in my recollection since 2005 or so, is that upper level classes have become increasingly populated – in TPRS/CI based classes – with average or even below average kids who would have dropped out of the program after a year or two before.

      So maybe the most talented teachers should “grow their own” as we say here in Colorado. Then stay with them through four years. Now that would be a dream.

  2. Totally agree about the sixth graders. I only got to teach that level in my final year but yes, they are the best and I never would have created the Invisibles without them. In a CI language class, there is nothing better than a sixth grader, for the reasons you give above Orlando. Glad to know your work is taking off. Buckle up. This stuff is high octane.

  3. Bryan N Whitney

    It may sound selfish, but I agree that if we don’t take care of ourselves and think about what we enjoy in our teaching, then we simply won’t be able to relax and care for our students. If our basic needs aren’t being met, it won’t be possible to help meet the needs of our students. Plus, we don’t get to choose are students- sometimes there are certain groups that just don’t mesh well, or there are systemic issues within the school system itself that make it unwise to do certain activities or act in certain ways (for example- it would be rather challenging to do storytelling this time of the year). I love that this group has helped me to dive deeper into CI, but also take into account my needs as a person. I think that we can be pretty bad about never “being good enough” or “doing/teaching enough”.

    1. I’ll just say it. Perfectionism has clouded my life. I believed all the hype in school, competed hard in academics and athletics, and left my soul behind. So thanks for saying those things Bryan. We’re good enough. We don’t have to be perfect.

      If I could give only one piece of advice to a new teacher, it would be to protect their own needs as a person, and to remember that admins average tenure in buildings is 3-5 years, so who is there really to impress? We don’t need anyone’s approval. We love and nurture ourselves.

      Why do I push the Invisibles here so much? Not bc I think they are the best way to teach a language – which is however true in my opinion – but bc they protect my mental health and make it easy to teach, so I don’t have to stress, which is the worst. That is why I invented the Invisibles. Because they help me just teach easy, like floating down a river. Screw stress.

  4. Sean M Lawler

    It’s very interesting to read of your journey, Orlando. How we shut down kids and their pulsing interest to play and grow is something very real to me. It’s a big reason why I got into teaching in the first place. I always thought school was, simply, repressive. Luckily, I had a wonderful junior and senior year in high school when we moved to Madison, WI.

    By the way, my admin just told me that with our new union contract, admin can not come observe teachers the last 8 weeks of the school year. That is wonderful news and just makes a ton of sense. It just seems devious to me for admin to come observe you during the last weeks of the year.

    1. Love it Sean. Love that the admins are barred at the end of the year. That says so much! YES – they are devious. Who knows better than us just how devious they are? Bless their hearts, and bless the holes in their hearts. May they be filled with love and confidence that everyone in the building is doing their best, and approach their jobs from that point of view. If not, they have people like you in their buildings who will show them the way.

      1. Sometimes it’s just also because they have been given things from THEIR higher ups that they are told are more urgent that visiting classrooms. Then the end of the school year rolls around and they realize they haven’t visited classrooms so they scramble to visit before the school year ends.

        I think ideally in a school building you should have one person who is just in classrooms all day and actually gets to KNOW teachers, rather than the dog and pony show.

        We all know that the same admin did not teach the perfect lesson each day of their teaching career either. I’d rather be observed unannounced several times during a school year than the formal observation.

        Get to know me as a teacher and don’t just check boxes.

  5. I’ve been 5 years at a continuation school where most students are considered “not the best”. In this time I’ve found great appreciation for the students with silly, playful personalities and imagination. Ones that have an open mind and an open heart. Those are the best at any age.

  6. This will sound negative and I don’t really mean it to, but one of my goals is to never teach an AP class. I am achieving that goal so far. This doesn’t mean I don’t want my students to progress as much as possible into the intermediate proficiency range, but I don’t want to teach to a test like that when the majority of students are not going to a 4 year university. They are going straight into the workforce, military, trade school and community college where they will actually *need functional Spanish* waaaaay more than a student going to 4 yr uni who is not even likely to take Spanish in college.

    I have students in my “upper levels” who would “not cut it” in the old school wayZ. They are not on the honor roll. They are failing a lot of classes. Heck, many are truant. I am not in the “savior” mode either. I just want to enjoy some time with students, each of whom has something to teach me. And the bonus is, all of these students feel confident in their Spanish, at least in comprehension. And they are confident enough to communicate with folks they meet at work in “the real world.” I hear stories pretty frequently where a kid will say “Ms. Schongalla, I spoke Spanish to a customer yesterday!”

    Lots to still work on, but for the most part I can just stroll in and plug “topic x” (whatever kids are into) into the star sequence. I still suck at consistency. I am working on that. I need to stick to the WnD every day (instead of sporadically, because I get too caught up in whatever we are talking about).

    My students “get it” in that they know each person goes at their own pace, and that it takes time to build language. That makes me very happy to know! They wrote such insightful comments on an impromptu little reflection yesterday. I asked them earnestly to help me with what to tell incoming students and parents for “step up day” next week. Of course I did not have a form for them to fill out. I just made up 4 questions and wrote them on the white board. They responded on mini white boards! They are freaking SLA experts!!! Not to mention very tuned into the “low stress atmosphere” “Fun” “Don’t be hard on yourself” “Dont be afraid to ask questions” “she slows down and uses gestures to help you understand” “cool kindergarten class where you learn Spanish” “We do stuff for mental health” “I know I’m learning because I can understand Spanish outside of class.” Hooray for kids!!!!

    My big struggle is with bureaucracy and new initiatives such as the “QPA” stuff they are rolling out big time and includes such things as “rubric validation” and the grilling we were subjected to this week on the number of summative assessments per quarter that we give. They are collecting “data” so they can mandate a specific number of summatives next year…ick. Apparently we will soon be required to post our QPA (Quality Performance Assessments) on a shared google drive for all to see. I wonder who will be checking those…my dept. head the PE teacher??? If so, I could be in real trouble. But I’ll wait and see.

    I don’t know what that will look like, since I just pick something at random and put a number in for “interpretive” or “interpersonal” then I can back it up with student portfolio evidence. Whatever. I picked a random number so they wouldn’t grill me. “Five. I do five per quarter for each competency.” Stated confidently like a boss. I am also politely tossing out nuggets of “language is implicit not explicit like every other class in the building.” While I am content to fly under the radar and check the boxes, I also want to bust the box so that the program is set up specifically to foster student happiness and acquisition.

    I’m so deeply grateful for this group that inspires me to keep everything I do at the heart level.

    1. Sean M Lawler

      Yeah, it really sucks to have admin criticize your work even when your students are feeling good about being in your class. I hear ya, jen!

      Yesterday, my principal offered me an additional role titled English Language Program Teacher. It’s a new role that every Chicago Public School has to assign to, ideally, a teacher and not an admin. I don’t officially teach ESL, but we have tons of ESL students in my school and I’ve helped them out from time to time. If I take on this additional role, my biggest obstacle, I think, will be helping teachers come to terms with the contradiction of summative assessments and language acquisition development. In so doing, I would have to help my principal come to terms with that as well. No small feat. Honestly, I don’t know if I have the energy for it.

      1. The chasm is wide between us and ESL, and I think we are far more aligned w the research and standards than they are. ESL – this is my opinion only – has generally a sort of factory mentality.

        I tried in DPS to explore how to build a bridge w the 2000 EFL teachers in the Denver Public Schools. There were 100 of us WL teachers. We got the feeling that we were not even on their radar.

        That’s a hint, Sean. Unless they want to build their half of the bridge, it could be an exhausting job for you. Peacemakers like you must choose their battles.

        You have nothing to prove. No battle-tested CI teacher does. And yet they would possibly look down their noses at you.

        Of course, if there is a lot of extra cash….

      2. I really got into automation Sean. I’ve explained this when we met in Cherokee Nation. Do the least amount of additional work to maximize your dollar… admins do it, why not us? I really would just get along with people and filter out what admin wants you to do and “Check the box”. Back the teachers and IF the opportunity comes up to help out teachers do it with suggestions.

        Remember that portfolios can also be summatives. The students can be trained to do them. It shows that ESL students have moved a level each year…. at least that is our district view on ESL students.

        Or maybe you can provide CI strategies that increase student clarity. I hear that use of L1 like Spanish is still allowed in the ESL world .. though it depends on student population. Cheers

  7. Jen – this is the best:

    …my students “get it” in that they know each person goes at their own pace, and that it takes time to build language….

    The standardization of expected results by a certain time by an entire class (i.e. the application of old thinking to our new language teaching world in defiance of the research) is dark. Either the research is accurate or it’s not.

    If the research is accurate, and it is supremely accurate, then we must learn to simply allow our kids the HUGE kindness of knowing that they can go at their own speed, even if it 1 m.p.h.

    So do what jen is doing. Otherwise, stop demanding results on summative tests. That’s wrong, dumb and dark.

    Where are the enlightened admins? I only know of one in Virginia, Sheri Thomas’s husband.


    That’s the first time I’ve written a sentence in caps on this PLC since it started way back in 2004, as a public site. I must have been animated by a feeling of urgency.

    Quand j’ai dessiné les baobabs j’ai été animé par le sentiment de l’urgence.”
    Petit Prince, Ch. 5

  8. The baobab trees in the Little Prince, in my opinion, represent out of control desires, greed, all those negative attributes we find now in plentiful supply in our society.

    The image by Saint-Exupéry is timeless. The author would have us understand that the baobab trees, whose roots on the small planet of the little prince can explode the planet if not pulled as twigs in the daily “toilette du matin”, can really hurt us.

    Why is testing so out of control? It is because the desire to look good, be the best, receive acclaim, be known as the the best, etc. is out of control in schools.

    We as a profession must protect our own mental health by not buying into the desire that our kids test high. They can’t test high for the same reason that five and six year olds can’t test high. This is a strong message for new people:


    Many language teachers, now in these final weeks of the year, are exhausted because they fail to understand the gem of a thought that jen wrote above about LETTING HER STUDENTS PROGRESS AT THEIR OWN RATE by awarding grades that are only formative and that are wrapped in soft kindness. I became expert at making my grade book look fairly rigorous when its real design was to provide a solid emotional base for my students, so that they would come back to my class the next year and fricking feel good about themselves as language learners.

    More ranting. I’ll stop now. But may the Good Lord in His ever-loving kindness bless and keep and sustain for another year His overworking servants who think, against the research, that they will win the approval of those around them, including ignorant admins who will only be in another school in 3-5 years anyway, by showing results on summative tests. IT DOESN’T HAPPEN THAT WAY IN LEVELS ONE AND TWO.

    THEY CAN’T SCORE HIGH because of the nature of how people acquire languages. That is why the AP exam is such garbage. When I think of how the College Board is only in it as a business for their bottom line and will drop an exam like the AP French Literature exam the moment it ceases to be profitable, and how hard my colleagues work (WHY when you don’t have to?), it makes me angry and sad at the same time. I think I’m crying for my own self who played that approval game for 40 years and beat myself up if my kids didn’t kick ass on the AP exam, etc.

    I remember the fatigue, even though I am retired now. I remember it in the cells of my body.

    The word retired isn’t supposed to mean tired. It is from the Latin otium: leisure, ease, peace, rest, repose. Latin scholars please correct me on that. The French has a different slant on the word la retraite: retreating, refuge. Both have good connotations of a life of service well-lived.

    Don’t burn out over the sickness that we are living in. Retire in one piece. Listen to jen….

  9. And jen you are quite right to fly under the radar on the QPA thing. You are so far beyond that in what you are doing. Let them study how languages are learned before putting that junk on you. It’s like someone is handing the keys to fools and children these days in our society.

    1. Jennifer Schongalla

      Haha, yeah. I can play smoke and mirrors just like the next guy. I just do what I do and put the numberZ in where they tell me to. I’ll have to be a bit more organized (ie, hire more student employees) next year to be sure the portfolio evidence is “spit spot” in the event of increased surveillance.

      1. Oh also re: formative / summative. Since everything is formative for us (ie, there is no “mastery” of “concepts we taught”) I just keep it simple and stick to the school required 20% formative 80% summative when reporting grades. It’s easy! You just put the number in as “summative!”

        1. Exactly. Summative has always meant formative in my grade book. Why would I not do that? Why waste a three hour exam period when you could fill it up with CI and take nice leisurely trip around the star, as per the sample semester exam I just posted here as a separate article.

      2. I also have never experienced increased surveillance. It’s just a fear tactic they are good at that they learn in Admin. School. Admins – as I have been told by admins themselves – want one thing: not to have to deal with our kids in their office. They just don’t have time to find out the why behind our grades. And if they DO try to figure out the why, they are set up for a barrage of information downloaded from the primers above, emails from me, friendly chats in the hallway about how language assessment is different from other subjects, etc. Bam!

      3. Dur to school culture and alignment with my feeder high school, I do a summative final. However my grading scale is %30 tests/quiz and %60 interpersonal skills. I take three 40 minute days to do “the final”. This year the students filled out a writing analysis based on their freewrites from Bob Patrick. Then, I did 2 parts of a discrete test. It gave me a break and it made my class seem like a “high course”

        The students who earned their A in Interpersonal skills kept their A. Those who cheated and got an A on the final couldnt raise their Interpersonal skills grade. Interpersonal/formative wins everytime.

        In my grade book, I would click a box labeled “exclude from grade” on any new interpersonal grade this made ONLY the newest grade count. This made the last weeks before any vacation/break simple. Also it let parents know that I was tracking progress. Parents are worse than admin if their little Billy doesnt get an A.

  10. “A. In our excitement, we sometimes think that way, but the kids need time to adjust. So do we! So a little coloring, drawing, grammar study, down time, it’s all wonderful. We do what we want, not what is best. Otherwise we really do burn out!”

    And if by sometimes doing things that are not 100% CI we get admins, colleagues, parents and students off of our back (because we aren’t accused of “not teaching anything”) we actually free up MORE TIME to provide CI. Also if the not 100% CI activities are better for classroom management….it’s better than pure CI with a rowdy class.

  11. In my experience….as far as 100% CI goes in a class……we basically have until February to work our magic.

    The school year de facto ends in February even if officially it ends later. March- end of May is when schools view the “high school experience” to take precedence over academics.

    1. I agree Greg! As our year winds down (we go until June 26 here in NYC) I am thinking about next year a lot and realizing that I have to front-load the CI input and classroom community building activities because by February break the tone is set and immovable and by April break the kids don’t want to sit and listen to me at all anymore. The “create” point of the star is no longer very fun, so I’ve been skipping it, and just writing up readings they can work out with a partner and really focusing on the pair project creating story books.

  12. That’s so accurate Carly and Greg – the Create phase of the star only has energy until February, then reading should take over in late winter/early spring/then the projects and social time to end the year.

    We shorten the week with the WCTG on Fridays. We don’t give in to the desire to make every minute count after March. We need to learn to release our hold on wanting to do as much CI as possible. That is some serious swimming upstream in spring. No need for it.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben