Speaking English In Your CI Classes

Sean Lawler once wrote here:

“We all have our moments during class where we speak in English at length about whatever comes up . We do so because sometimes topics that come up are just too interesting to not talk about in English.”

I really like this. I see the extended us of English as a good thing if we want to build a good feeling of community in our CI classroom, which is so important to making your CI classroom work well because of the importance of community and inclusion of all the students in the class. 

Extended use of English also helps with the long block, especially for the older kids.

Another reason that extended use of English is acceptable in our CI classes was mentioned in a previous post here yesterday: We have but a fraction of the 10,000 hours needed for mastery of a language, so whether we use all of our instructional minutes or only half of them makes very little difference in proficiency outcomes.

So if a student needs 10,000 hours of CI for mastery and we only have 500 hours available to us in a four year program, we should just relax about using every minute of those 500 hours. It’s not enough. 

Moreover, accounting for all of the lost instructional minutes that happen in the normal course of a typical day in our schools, that number is around 400 hours available. 

If you were to speak in English, building community, hanging out with the kids, having fun getting to know their interests (so critical to a successful CI classroom!), and you ended up using only 250 of the hours available to you instead of the 400 over the four-year program, then what difference will that extra 150 hours make if you need 10,000 hours to get to any decent level of mastery? Very little….

The students will get what they get and it won’t be enough to make a real difference in their proficiency, but the judicious use of extended discussion in English does much to build trust, acceptance and inclusion in your classroom, which are always such HUGE factors for your CI success.

Sean continued:

“Here’s an example of an English tirade we went on. We had included Serena Williams as a character in a mini-story. A student, Chelsea, who was putting her head down in class a lot that day, starting talking, in English, about how Serena married a white man and recently had a baby. She just started talking. And like a river running around the rocks, I flowed right into the conversation. We talked about Serena, her image as a black woman, etc., for over 5 minutes.

“Then I remember looking at the clock and thinking, ‘Could I finish this story and do a little fill-in-the-blank with sentences about the story before the bell rings?’ I had to move quickly, so I jumped us back into Spanish. I know Chelsea struggles with her own feelings of self-worth. But I’m sure that as a result of our discussion in English that day, Chelsea felt when she left the classroom that day more valued because I allow conversations in English like this.”

I responded to Sean:

I am happy if, at the end of the year, I have used “only” 50% of my available instructional minutes in the TL that year. It means I was busy building community. 

“ACTFL is all stuck in their theoretical heads on their 90% position statement. That puts the language in a position of greater importance than the kids and distances them from us. The Chelseas are why we are in the classroom, not the language. I applaud you, Sean. The discussion about Serena was important to her development as a person.”

*Because I need 10,000 hours to get a kid to mastery, whereas even in a four year program, given 125 available instructional hours each year X 4 years gives me 500 hours or 1/20th of the time I need to get them where I want them. So by doing 50% of the time in the TL that year, only giving them 1/40th of the time needed, or in a good class in a good year, 1/30th (factoring in all the time for announcements and calling role, etc.), how big a deal is that? 1/20th of the time needed to get my students to mastery is what I have, so what difference does it make if I only have 1/30th or even 1/40th (50% of time in the TL).

“Our job is to make them want to learn more and feel good about themselves as language learners, not to get them to fluency. The 90% position statement is bogus. And ACTFL puts on very boring conferences. Back to the point – teachers who try to cram all the CI they can into a class are hurting themselves and their students. 

?It’s not about teaching the language, it’s about being in community (Chomsky) and preserving our mental health and, less importantly because all we can really do is take care of ourselves first if we are to help others, that of our young charges.”

One caution on this topic: If you are speaking in English during class, make it extended. Don’t speak using English for 30 seconds, then go the TL, then back to L1 for a minute and then back to the TL. This really messes up the proficiency gains. Your goal should be at least 10 uninterrupted minutes at a time in the TL, however many minutes you may spend on any given day in English.



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