What is CI? – 1

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25 thoughts on “What is CI? – 1”

  1. This comment does not address your main point, but I wanted to share our local problem.

    Out here in Los Angeles, we have a very popular program for teachers of world languages. The impetus in blending TPRS with activities in this much-beloved “LA STARS” program is that one simply *must* find a way to use those expensive textbooks. This is absolute.

    In fact, my friend who teaches jr. college German, who has always used an eclectic approach, in contrast with my 100% CI/PQA approach, says that she ‘has to’ use the textbook, or she will be fired. The textbook must be in print, and must be a slick-looking piece of marketing in order to get the approval of her jr college administrators.

    I’m sure you’ve pointed this out before, but capitalism stands out as one reason for the watering down of this amazing tool called TPRS. Gee whiz, my former mentor, before I went 100% TPRS/CI now works for Prentice Hall.

  2. Hello everyone. I just joined the PLC a few hours ago -I am SO happy to be here. Not sure if I’m posting this in the right place or not, or if general comments go elsewhere (?). I discovered this website today (while I had kids in the room I was theoretically supposed to be teaching…) and believe I have just found the gateway for the teaching path I’ve been looking for. I’ll summarize my situation to introduce myself, then ask a few questions.

    I’m presently in quite a predicament teaching-wise. This is my second year teaching French after graduating with a Music Ed. degree. I applied for the job on a whim because of my interest in language learning. I had never taught a single minute of a language before my first day of teaching. I’m very happy I accepted the job, but I have a mess on my hands that I’m trying to get help to sort out. This semester I have 3 classes (block): 1) French II with a few III’s and 1 AP student 2) French III/IV (but really I/II), and French I. So far in my teaching career I’ve experimented with various methods with varying degrees of success and also tried not using a method at all. I almost quit last year, but my connections with my students wouldn’t let me. So I’m back in the middle of year two.

    I started this year with a few new tricks under my belt after observing two French teachers in my district last year. Looking back, I see their approach was entirely grammar-driven. But, their classes were disciplined and productive, which was attractive to me considering the continuing chaos in my own classroom. Then, around Christmas this year I found out about the lexical approach and have read several books on that. That got me started on the idea of chunks instead of individual, isolated out of context (or in artificial contexts at best). I still didn’t know, though, how to actually structure entire classes around this idea.

    Somehow I ended up on Youtube a couple days ago and saw a video of Susan Gross talking about the success of her students with TPRS. This led me to search after search on what TPRS is and how to do it. I’ve read through about 20 articles the past 3 days and watched countless videos discovering this for the first time. Today I actually taught my first TPRS class in French I. It’s very messy and not well-planned, but I had to try something new becuase the class was beginning to seriously fall apart doing the notes/practice/conversations routine. I can tell already, even though I’m probably doing a very poor version of TPRS, that my students are more engaged.

    If my kids are engaged when I’m doing this poorly, I’m know they’re language acquisition and enthusiasm can only grow as I learn how this whole thing really works. I know it will be messy since I’m introducing this all of a sudden during the 5th week of classes, but I’d rather do that than continue losing them with the traditional book-based agenda. Also, next week I plan on starting TPRS with my two upper-level classes (lots of figuring out to do this weekend).

    I am about to order the PDFs for TPRS in a Year! and PQA in a Wink! to get started learning how to do this. In addition, does anyone have any suggestions for someone who is jumping into TPRS all of a sudden from a grammar/textbook-driven agenda? (and also just not teaching at all some days in my upper level classes to avoid the discipline struggle) Would it be good to explicitly describe to the students the “new” strategy and structure we’ll be using in class? Has anyone else switched over suddenly to TPRS? Any suggetsions will be MUCH appreciated (Sorry for such a long post!).

    Looking forward to participating in the PLC and grateful beyond words to be here.

    1. Welcome, Greg! Don’t worry about whether you posted in the “right” place or not. We all post where it seems to fit at the moment. This PLC is certainly not stringent.

      You will get lots of good responses from many people here, so what I am writing is just a start.

      I believe you owe it to your students to explain to them what your are doing and why. They know you have been struggling, and unless you give them some reason to think otherwise, they will simply write this “TPRS stuff” off as another phase or flailing effort. Let me concentrate on some things to tell them, if I may.

      For me, an explanation at this point would go something like this:
      “I’ve been doing some serious research on how people acquire, not just learn, a language. While there are a lot of methods out there, they don’t reflect what is really going on inside our brains. According to the reading I’ve been doing, your brain demands meaning. That’s why we see animals and people in the clouds or Jesus’ face on a tortilla; our brains create meaning if there isn’t any. And we remember things better and longer when we encounter them in a context that has meaning, significance, interest, emotion and humor.

      “Out of all the methods out there, the one that I’ve found that does the best at helping people acquire a language is called TPRS. It’s completely different from a lot of the things we’ve been doing, so all of us – me as well as you – will need time to make the transition and get used to the new way of doing things. But I’m committed to this because I know that you guys will acquire a lot more French in a shorter period time than with anything I’ve been doing so far.

      “With TPRS we’re going to set the textbook aside and just talk to each other. Conjugating and picking out subjects and matching prepositions – that isn’t how we acquire fluency in a language, so we’re setting that aside. Instead, we’re going to get to know each other better, laugh at silly things together and just have a good time ‘hanging out’ in French.

      “Think of it as being like a game or a sport. There have to be some rules or you can’t play the game. So here are some rules of the game:
      1. There has to be a single conversation with the whole class in French – no private conversations and no English
      2. I have to make sure you understand everything I say in French
      3. You have to show me that you understand or signal that you don’t understand. I explain later how you do that.

      “Any questions?” [Take time to answer the questions]

      Then, start them off with the Circling with Balls activity. Do this exactly as if this were the very first day of class and you had never seen them before that day. In many ways this really is the first day of class – the first day of a class that has huge potential.

      Expect more resistance from upper-level students simply because they are already comfortable with the “more traditional” methods of language learning (not acquisition). If it all starts to become overwhelming, concentrate on doing TPRS with the beginners and do what you have to do to get through the rest of the year with the upper levels.

      And remember, the worst day using TPRS/Comprehensible Input is better than the best day of teaching grammar.

      1. Thanks for the welcome, Robert! And thanks for your generous amount of advice! You have summarized perfectly what I was wanting to tell my students but was unable to put clearly into words. I plan on turning this starting point speech into an outline, maybe add a few things, then reherase and internalize it this weekend so I can explain such an epic change of pace to my students on Monday in a way that makes sense.

        Also, thanks for the advice to just do my best with my upper level students (in whom I’ve already instilled bad habits) and focus more on my beginners if need be.

        I can’t believe it only costs $5 dollars to be a part of this -that’s almost ridiculous. Also, how is every language teacher on the planet not a part of this?

    2. Greg,

      Jump into the wolf’s mouth. That is the best way to do it!

      1) Read , read , read about it which is what you are doing. Just like the unconscious part of CI , your reading will make wonders unconsciously. It did for me.

      2) Watch watch watch, there are plenty of videos on this blog under video link , and on You tube. They are so helpful for new people. They were to me.
      Watch the ones on Circling with balls b/c they adress discipline which is what you need to make this work. Teaching CI won’t work without ADDRESSING discipline first ( Look at rules on this blog as well as jGR/Dgr).

      30 Come on this blog for questions and support ( You will need it) and you WILL find plenty of help and support here!

      Good luck, you’ll need it.

      Got to go speak some French with my kids,


      1. Merci Sabrina! Interesting point about acquiring my own knowledge about all this subconsiously! I left school at 7 tonight becuase I was reading posts on here. And now I’m home back on my computer (I’ll be going out for a beer in a little bit to allow my brain to absorb all this -I just can’t get enough!!). Thanks as well for the advice about addressing discipline and how teaching CI won’t work without doing so. Discipline is the thing I’m most concerned about. And yes, I will be on here a LOT asking questions! In fact, I may just skip all my district-mandated World Language workshops and come here instead…

  3. Greg, Welcome. And congratulations! I will not say that you will. Of be sorry bc there will be days when you wonder “why the HELL am I doing this ?” But you are going to have more days when you will be smiling walking into and out of your building and looking forward to and then reflecting on all the fun and laughs you will have/had with your students that day day! Why? Because YOU will have relationships with your students, rather than textbooks and worksheets that the kids have a relationship with now!!!!! I’m only 1.5years into it and the kids I didn’t like and who did not like me preTPRS are enjoying each other in class now…they smile and even greet me in Spanish in the hall! Their parents have told me that they LOVE my class and my new way of teaching. It has also helped with discipline and classroom mgmt. if they start veering away from jGR then I threaten worksheets instead of a story and they are back “in”. Lol

    1. Thanks mb for your words and welcome! I’m glad to hear that the change for you has actually helped discipline and classroom mgmt. That’s something I’m very concerned about. Especially the closer Monday morning gets!

      I also love that you said “Because YOU will have relationships with your students, rather than textbooks and worksheets that the kids have a relationship with now…” That is exactly the part I’m most excited about going into this, along with allowing my students to start actually aquiring the language.

  4. Welcome, Greg!

    Jump on in. The water’s fine! There’s enough information on this site to keep you learning for years.

    I second Robert’s assertion that being frank w/ your students is a good idea. You’ll find that getting to know them is one of our tenants. Personalizing the classroom. If they don’t trust you they won’t play the game with you.

    Sabrina is also right. Watch all you can. Start simple and focus on the core strategies Ben lists in his book, TPRS in a YEAR.


    1. Thanks for the welcome, Grant! I’ll do my best to start simple and learn one thing at a time, although I feel like there are hundreds of things on this PLC that I want to understand right away!

      1. Greg there is a TON of info on this PLC!!!! it is overwhelming at times. But, as jen suggested (and others) Look at Ben’s TPRS books, read his “beginning of the year” stuff; the “Weekly Schedules” blogs and just take it S L O W. Be honest with the kids — I always start a semester telling them that I like to have FUN and relax in class, and then I ask them who else would like that? then I proceed to tell them about this “new” way of teaching that I have discovered through my research. It actually teaches in a way that your brain learns!!! so…it’s going to seem REALLY easy and it’s also going to seem like you’re not learning. BUT….if you are following along with what I am saying, and with the flow of conversation going on in the classroom then you ACQUIRING the language!!! I want you to ACQUIRE rather than LEARN the language, because Learning goes into short term memory and you’ll soon forget it. However, if we tackle Spanish this way, then you will acquire it and will have less of a need to cram for a test!!!! (and after 3 semesters I can see that it DOES work!!)
        TPRS = less failure rates = happier parents = better engaged kids!
        When they start earning better grades, they no longer see YOU as the “giver of grades” (I HATE Mr./Mrs. so and so…..he/she GAVE me an “F”!!!), but rather they feel empowered – they no longer feel like the dumbass the teacher in Chem or Math makes them feel like. they are SMART in Spanish, thanks to Señora. Soooo…..I like Señora. I won’t be a dumbass in her class. I will be nice and respectful to her.
        BOY!!! this TPRS-thing really DOES work!!!
        Have fun with your students on Monday! Make them a part of the team (I remind my classes everyday that we are a TEAM! – lots of athletes at my school, so it works!)

    1. Thanks to everyone for all the advice!

      I’m looking forward to responding to all when I have more time this weekend. This PLC has already been very helpful. My classes have been on “pause” for the past few days. I started this second semester very engergetic and determined, but movitation and enthusiasm (the students’ and mine) bottomed out last week. So, I stopped teaching the past few days -literally (except in French I, so as not to lose them completely). My kids have just been hanging out in the room for 90 minutes while I’ve been discovering CI on my computer at my desk. Everyone is bored with grammar and vocab. There’s no way I could go on teaching like this and preserve my sanity -or my kids’ hearts for language learning. Things must change (although I wonder how trying to start this new teaching will go now that I have normed the idea that students can just hang out in 2 out of my 3 classes).

      So, starting Monday I’m embarking on a journey of teaching CI (or whatever this is called). There is a TON I still don’t understand about how this actually works minute by minute in the classroom, but I need to start now before it gets any later in the semester and I do any more damage to my kids’ brain cells. I don’t have time to figure it out any more than I’ll be able to this weekend. I’ll be figuring it out as I go along and pouring through this site.

      Laurie, I’m in Durham, NC (Northern High School). I would love to know if you or anyone else know of others who are in NC.

      Thanks again to all -looking forward to “meeting” everyone on here. P.S. I see that members are asked to submit a bio here, so I’ll try to do that soon.

  5. Hi Greg,
    I was basically in the same boat as you two years ago. In April I walked in one Monday and announced “Extreme Makeover 2011.”

    I had an honest talk with the kids, pretty much like Robert suggested, and I just jumped in and have never looked back. I did this later in the year with full encouragement from “this group of people I’ve never met but who I can tell are the real deal.” You have “stumbled” (ha…I love the universe 🙂 into the best group of honest real people who will support you and never judge you! It is just the best thing ever. Not exaggerating!

    Welcome and go for it and know that it is a process, because it is real life instead of some BS worksheet crap that you just push through, so keep your attention on the present moment and on the kids in front of you. Emphasize to your students that they all have the wiring to learn a language. They don’t even have to study! They don’t have to be on the honor roll. Proof is that they all learned native language not by grammar drills, but by interacting with their parents, who spoke to them so that they understood, read to them, laughed and played, etc. Remind them that they did not speak in full sentences for a very long time, but that nonetheless they communicated perfectly to family and friends. Definitely do the work on personalization and classroom rules using a rubric for interpersonal skills (dGR / jGR or something similar and clear). Pretend it is September. Or just embrace late February knowing that each day is a new opportunity!

    I guess one other thing I would say is don’t overwhelm yourself “trying to catch up.” It is a long road. This way of teaching enables you to actually have a life, so don’t negate that by spending too much time on planning. It is a scary leap, but you have to trust the process. I think if you get freaked at any point, you can always do a dictation or the “math break.” Check out the “new bi weekly schedule.” Ben is all about templates so that you have a structure but you don’t have to plan. I am a huge fan of this!

    Have fun 🙂

    1. Thanks, jen -It’s great to be here!

      Your comment is very helpful, especially where you said “it is a process, because it is real life instead of some BS worksheet crap that you just push through.”

      I’m still not clear on how to actually start this on Monday. You said, “Definitely do the work on personalization and classroom rules using a rubric for interpersonal skills (dGR / jGR or something similar and clear).” That helps. I guess I’m leaning toward just introducing TPRS / CI on Monday, setting up the ground rules very clearly, and doing some activites that illustrate how the new classroom will operate (like maybe Circling with Balls). I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to fill up 90 minutes everyday for the first few weeks while introducing my kids to this and getting them all on board (all the while trying to learn myself).

  6. Hi, Greg! We have all been exactly where you are. I took the total leap in March four years ago with my French classes – all levels – 1-4. My French 3’s were kind of sick of the textbook. They were also a lovely group. They loved and embraced the change and became a great French 4 class. With that said, looking back, it may have been better had I just concentrated on level 1. You will get a feel for it since you know your kids so well. I guess I am saying not to feel pressured to change all groups at once if the kids are not on board. If your upper levels are less than enthusiastic, just practice circling with them for a few minutes. For me, there was a period of trial and error just feeling my way along and I am still left with the sense that my instruction was not as clear and honed as would have liked and I am not sure what they got out of CI but the change had to come and my classroom really became a learning lab. I echo Jen’s recommendation of Ben’s new two week sequence of instruction – it makes everything formulaic in terms of planning which gives the teacher a scaffold – a safe harbor ergo the chance to be effective. His latest videos are wonderful. I also am a big believer in workshop attendance too. Somewhere you can buy a 3 CD set of Susan Gross – it’s a video one of her three day workshops. I highly recommend it. You can watch it again and again. If you can make it to NTPRS of iFLT this summer, you would learn a ton. It’s great to be with like-minded people. I leave conferences feeling renewed, refreshed, and ready to face the world. Take a deep breath. You have a lot on your plate and a lot to wrap your brain around. Like Jen said it’s a process. I would recommend focusing on one or two skills at a time – TPRS in a Year is great for that. Be kind to yourself and take heart it’s almost June!

  7. Thanks for the welcome, Chill!

    What you said about my upper levels is very helpful. I’m interested to see how they will take things on Monday when I shock them with this new way of doing class. But I think you’re right -if I can’t really get them on board, I might be better off just focusing on my French 1’s. Even if that turns out to be the case, though, I guess I can keep going with traditional book stuff, grammar, etc. in my upper levels but throw in CI-esque stuff too (kind of like a practice lab to allow myself to work on techniques I’m using in my level 1 class which will be 100% TPRS/CI). Does that seem like a good plan?

    1. Hey Greg,

      I had difficulties getting my Spanish 2 on board (as well as other departmental issues) that led me to go away from full TPRS, BUT I do still do a lot of PQA with them, which I think is a good way to practice that skill while having your level 1 class be 100% TPRS/CI. They may not be getting as much input, but something is better then nothing, and once your level 1 moves on to level 2 (and hopefully stays with you), then they’ll be more on board to continue with TPRS. Anyway, just my two cents. Good luck!

      1. I think Ben is likely correct here. It’s disappointing, but some kids can’t handle change. Seriously. Others can. When I switched, one upper-level class made the switch quite well and the other still has not 5-6 months later, or at least not all of them have. If you get problems from students, Greg, come back and tell us. We’ve likely all had the same.

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