The ABCs of providing CI Through Remote Instruction: U is for Universal Curriculum

A few years ago, I stumbled upon Lance Piantaggini‘s Universal Language Curriculum. His Latin curriculum has two main parts. The first part contains two main essential questions, which are, “Who am I/Who are we?” and “Who were the Romans?” The second part of his curriculum is a heavy emphasis on high frequency verbs (You may have heard other comprehensible input teachers talk about the Super Seven or Sweet Sixteen verbs). In all of his lessons, he strives to present materials in which he uses lots of high frequency verbs and to provide a partial answer to his essential questions.

I have been working to set up my curriculum using a similar model . As a French and Spanish teacher, my first question is still “Who am I/Who are we?” but second question becomes either “Who are the French speakers?” or “Who are the Spanish speakers?” I make a point to put emphasis on speakers of the language and not residents of the country where the language originated to be more inclusive. Focusing on high-frequency verbs and the first essential question helps students progress according to the ACTFL Proficiency Scale, and focusing on the second essential question helps students develop intercultural competence.

This curriculum framework has given me the freedom to present material on almost anything as long as it answers those two essential questions in some way and includes lots of high-frequency verbs. In class, I usually have an idea of what I want to talk about on any given day, but the foundations of the curriculum gives me the flexibility to let the conversation flow to anything the students want to talk about. So while we may start out by talking about what students did over the weekend, one student may say something that sparks a conversation, and the next thing I know, we’re talking about whether or not Batman is a superhero if he has no superpowers or if pineapple should be put on pizza. It doesn’t matter, because all of that conversation still leads to answers to our first essential question (“I like Batman. My favorite food is pepperoni pizza.”).

While I do allow students to lead our conversations, I still try to steer our conversations to topics that are AP themes and that invite comparison between my students and students in the French-speaking world or Spanish-speaking world. One good theme to talk about is school. Some high-frequency verbs you might use include is, goes, does, and has. Then you’d need to expose students to vocabulary they can use to talk about what classes and teachers they have and like, school materials they need for each class, and what activities they do in their classes (verbs like to read, to draw, to sing and so on). This partially answers the first essential question (“I am a student in middle school. My favorite classes are art and science. In art, I draw and paint. In science class, we learn about the biology of plants and animals”). Then you can explore material about schools in the French and Spanish speaking worlds and start to compare their schools with your students’ school in the United States. You’ll still use high-frequency verbs and say things like they are, they go, they do, and they have to talk about students in other countries, and you’ll use we are, we go, we do, and we have when making comparisons. This answers the second essential question (“In France, students go to school for twelve years. In secondary school, they go to school for five days but have a half-day on Wednesday. At the end of secondary school, students take a test. The test is called le Baccalauréat.” Students study very hard for the test.”)

While teaching remotely, I found that I wasn’t able to introduce as many topics or structures. The same things is true now that I teach in a hybrid model. In spite of this, I found and continue to find that following a Universal Curriculum has been fortuitous. I don’t have to worry about not being able to “cover” a certain topic or structure the way I used to when I taught using a traditional grammar-based curriculum or even a unit-based curriculum. The way I see it, students will still be able to answer those essential questions at the end of the year and will have had exposure to those high-frequency structures. They just may not be able to answer those essential questions as thoroughly or use those high-frequency structures as easily as students may have in previous years. That is our unfortunate reality right now, because a magic formula to speed up proficiency just doesn’t exist. In the current state of things, I just need to remind myself that my students still will make some gains in proficiency this year, and just be happy with that.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Instruction: T is for Talking Pets

The TPRS conference in Agen, France was virtual this year, which is the only reason I got to attend. One of the most talked-about events at the conference was Tammy Ruijgrok‘s presentation about creating asynchonous classroom videos (if you want to see what she examples of her videos, click here).

Tammy teaches Dutch to very young children (ages 4-7). Like most kids, her students LOVE animals, which is why her cat Figgy is heavily featured in her videos. According to Tammy, Figgy speaks Dutch. And by using an app called My Talking Pet, she recorded a video in which her cat actually DOES speak Dutch!

Here is the video she made in which she interviews her cat. Start at 9:11 for the interview, or else watch the whole thing. It is absolutely precious.

After I watched Tammy’s presentation, I started thinking about the stories that second language teachers tell in their CI (comprehensible input) classes. So many of us talk about animals in our classes. How fun it would be to feature talking animals in those lessons! And it’s not just little kids like the ones in Tammy’s class who love animals. Animal appreciation is pretty universal (Case in point: My 75-year-old mother DEFINITELY loves her dog more than she loves me). I decided that this was definitely something I wanted to explore, so I downloaded the app on my phone and started playing with it.

Using the app is easy. After downloading it and creating an account, you upload a picture of an animal from your phone. The app then locates the animal’s eyes and mouth (which you can also adjust, because it isn’t perfect) to make the speech line up accurately with the picture. You record yourself speaking (you can adjust the speed and pitch of the voice too), and when you’re done, the app combines the speech with the picture. You can then download your video and use however you want.

I decided to add subtitles to the videos I made using my computer’s video editing software for double input, which I then uploaded to my Bitmoji classroom. Once classes begin, I’ll use them as an input activity.

Here is one of my videos. The running joke between this video and the one about my other cat Gus is that Zoé loves Gus but he can’t stand her. Will I spin this into a TPRS story? Maybe…

Like most apps, you have the choice between using the free version or a paid version. The free version limits the length of your videos and the number of videos you can save and download (only two). You’ll also have to put up with the logo in the corner of your clip. For unlimited use without the logo, you need to upgrade to the paid version (If you don’t care about the logo but want to create and save more than two videos, you can delete the app from your phone and reinstall it, which will cause the app to reset itself so you create two more videos. At some point I am sure the company will fix the glitch, but for now it works. If that’s too unethical for you but you still don’t want to pay for the app, you can download the free version on the phone(s) of a generous family member or friend to use).

I am constantly looking for new ways to deliver high-quality, compelling CI to my students. I’ll add the use of this app to my list of classroom strategies for sure. I won’t just limit myself to cats or dogs either. Why not turtles, goats, or elephants?

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Instruction: S is for Snap Camera

Most young people are familiar with Snapchat, the social media platform that allows users to send visual messages from their phones to each other using special filters on their pictures and videos to alter their appearance. The filters do things like exaggerate facial features, gives the user animal ears and noses, and many other crazy possibilities (If you are unfamiliar with Snapchat, below are some examples of what pictures and videos look like with Snapchat filters).

My friend Amy Marshall is a comprehensible input (CI) teacher who uses Snapchat to create short videos for her Spanish classes in which she retells TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling) stories. Not only do her students love her videos, but they serve as another source of CI for them (More CI = increased language proficiency). When I saw her workshop on this, I was intrigued, but I had difficulties figuring out how to use Snapchat, and found the process of having to transfer videos from my phone to my computer and then turning multiple clips into one video too time-consuming.

Then this year, Snap Camera was released, which is basically Snapchat for your computer. You can download the app onto your computer that, when opened, gives you the chance to use the same types of filters you’ll find on Snapchat. Installation is very fast and easy, and using the program is super simple. Basically, once you open the app, you will see a choice of filters (as in the picture below). Once you choose the one you want, it will be applied to your face, and you’re good to go.

I see two advantages to having Snap Camera. First of all, it completely streamlines the process of making videos like Amy’s. Now instead of having to download video clips from my phone to my computer and use video editing software to stitch them all into one video, all I have to do is choose my filter, open up my video recording software (like Loom or Screencastify), and start recording. If I want to change my filter, I just pause my recording, change filters, continue until I have finished, and then save my video to my computer. Easy peasy.

The second advantage of having Snap Camera on my computer is that I can use it when I am video conferencing using software like Zoom. And while it’s nice to use a filter to make it look as if I am wearing eye shadow or a hat (because I haven’t put on makeup or cut my hair since March), the real reason why I like using Snap Camera with Zoom is because my filter becomes something else I could talk about in the target language (TL) when holding Zoom meetings.

I recently took a Mandarin class on Zoom in which the teacher, the amazing Annick Chen, used a Snap Camera filter to make it look as if she had a cat on her head. Then we all learned the word for cat in Mandarin (māo) and spent the next five minutes or so talking about the cat on Annick’s head, which then led to a longer discussion about students’ pets. It was both compelling and fun, and I will NOT forget the word “māo” any time soon!

As I have mentioned before, I was not allowed to use Zoom to conduct synchronous classes when teaching remotely, but I could to use it for virtual office hours. I used the chance to see what Snap Camera filter I would have in office hours as an incentive to get students to “attend” these meetings (although personally I think this only worked because I teach middle school students, who are easy to excite). As a French teacher, I was especially excited for the filter that made it look as if I had multiple loaves of French bread on my head.

My friends who use MacBooks report that they have no issues using Snap Camera on their computers. I have a Microsoft Surface, and I find that Snap Camera can be a little glitchy. I almost always need to restart my computer to get the program to run, and while it works relatively well with Zoom, it doesn’t always play nicely with video recording programs like Flipgrid or Loom. But I will also admit that user error on my part my be part of the reason I have issues with it. If you have a computer similar to mine, give Snap Camera a try and see if you have more luck getting it to run consistently than I do!

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: R is for Reading Activities

When I first transitioned to teaching with comprehensible input (CI), the blog post I found the most helpful was Keith Toda‘s Todally Comprehensible Latin. He has one page on his blog that is an absolute gold mine. This page lists over EIGHTY ACTIVITIES that teachers can do in class to accompany reading.

Keith divides the list into Prereading, During Reading, and Postreading activities (The Postreading section is especially extensive). Some of the activities on Keith’s list are not conducive to distance learning, because they are games or activities that require students to work in groups. But many of the activities on the list can successfully be adapted to the online environment (The last four activities under Postreading are posts added after school building closed. They are great to help teachers navigate some of the technologies we may want to use while teaching remotely). As you work to keep think interesting while teaching online, make a point to bookmark this post.

Another blogger whom I consulted regularly when I was starting to experiment with CI strategies was Martina Bex‘s website The Comprehensible Classroom. It was on this website that I first learned about Smash Doodles (For more information about using Smash Doodles in a physical classroom and to see some examples, visit this post). Smash Doodles are a great activity to use to get students to engage with readings and creatively summarize what they have read.

Once most schools switched to distance learning, Immediate Immersion posted a template that students could use during distance learning to create Smash Doodles. My students used this template to summarize the book Brandon Brown Veut un Chien, which they have read using a Fluency Matters e-course. Once they finished the e-course, students created pages for the individual chapters. Below are two examples:

Once we’re officially back in school, I will create a book out of Smash Doodles to share with my students.

What are some of your go-to reading activities that you’ve had success with during remote learning? Please describe them in the comments!

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: Q is for Quizlet, Quizizz, and Quizalize

I have studied and/or used five different quizzing platforms these past few months while teaching remotely, (and while you may think five different platforms is overkill, I thought it was important to have a nice variety of online quiz structures so my students didn’t get bored). In this series, I have already written about two online quizzing platforms, Gimkit and Kahoot. You can see what I said about them in this post and this post. Today I’m going to talk about three other gaming platforms, Quizlet, Quizizz, and Quizalize. All five platforms can be used as assessments and to provide additional comprehensible input (CI) to students.

What is Quizlet?

Quizlet is an online learning platform that allows users to create “study sets,” which is basically a set of online flashcards. Besides interacting with a study set the same way they might interact with physical flashcards, students can also play online learning games like matching or take a practice quiz with terms in the study set. Teacher can also use study sets to create a class game called Quizlet Live.

Have I used Quizlet during normal classroom instruction? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

Yes, I have used Quizlet many times in my classes. I use Quizlet to create study sets of essential vocabulary. My students can review the essential vocabulary on their own either in class or at home. In addition, the class has used study sets together to play Quizlet Live.

When I first started teaching with CI, I did not provide lists of vocabulary to my students, because my assumption was that they would just acquire new words naturally due to extensive classroom use. What I realized, however, is that my anxious and/or competitive students liked having a place where they could review essential vocabulary just to be sure they weren’t missing anything (Unfortunately, many students have been conditioned over the years so that they believe that all “good” teachers will explicitly present material to them and tell them which words and expressions they need to study for assessments. This is not what I do as a CI teacher, but having study sets on Quizlet makes them feel as if I’m doing that). Having a Quizlet set also came in handy as a quick bellringer activity and as a resource for students who had been absent.

Have I used Quizlet now that I’m teaching remotely? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

Yes, I have used Quizlet for remote instrudction. As I described in this post, I use Quizlet to introduce students to new structures that they need in order to understand and complete one or more follow-up activites. For example, I recently assigned the Señor Wooly video “Qué Asco” to my fifth graders. Before they watched the video in Spanish, I asked them to review essential words in order to make the video more comprehensible. Then after watching the video, students had the option to review the Quizlet again before they completed a follow-up activity (During normal times I would still make the Quizlet set available to my students, but I would most likely present those new structures to my students interactively, like through a story or personalized questions and answers).

Do teachers need to pay for Quizlet?

Quizlet has a free version and a premium version. The free version includes advertising but it allows teachers to make as many study sets as they want. The premium version allows more options for formatting study sets. For example, that version lets teachers upload images and audio and gives teachers the ability to emphasize texts by making them bold, underlined, highlighted, or italicized. The premium version also tracks usage so teachers can monitor student progress and ensure that their students are actually interacting with the study sets.

What is Quizizz?

Quizizz is a platform that allows teachers to create online quizzes similar to those you might see on Kahoot. Unlike Kahoot, however, students can complete the quiz on Quizizz at their own pace and can take it multiple times to achieve a higher score. By default, Quizizz posts memes between each quiz question, which most students seem to like (although I did have one parent who said the memes were a waste of time, but what she didn’t realize is that all my memes were in the target language (TL), thus supplying a little sneaky CI). In addition, Quizizz gives students the chance to earn “power ups” (special privileges) for a series of correct answers. It also allows students to review before taking the quiz by giving them the chance to complete a practice round. Quizizz also keeps track of student scores that teachers can access once students have finished the quiz.

Have I used Quizizz during normal classroom instruction? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

I have not yet used Quizizz during normal classroom instruction, but I have already thought of ways to implement it once we are back to our regular teaching model. Since Quizizz is a quick and easy way to check for understanding, it will be good to use it after we have read and reviewed a story. Since it is student-driven, students will be able to take the quiz at his/her own pace. In theory, this should cut down on cheating, since there’s no guarantee that two students sitting near each other will be on the same question.

Have I used Quizizz now that I’m teaching remotely? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

Yes, I have used Quizizz while teaching remotely. Quizizz has a feature that allows teachers to assign a quiz as homework. I usually give one of these after my students have read a story. Students still have the option to review with a practice round before they take the actual quiz. I tell students that they must score at least 80% to earn credit for the assignment.

Do teachers need to pay for Quizizz?

No. It is completely free all the time.

What is Quizalize?

Quizalize is yet another online gaming platform that gamifies a formative assessment. It is very similar to both Quizlet and Quizizz in that it is student-paced, but two features make it a unique tool. First, it provides extensive data based on quiz outcomes for teachers to examine. Second, teachers can link content standards to quiz questions in order to determine how well students are meeting those standards, which is very convenient for standards-based grading.

Teachers have the option of either creating their own quiz or adapting someone else’s quiz for their own use. They create their classes right in Quizalize and assign classes a quiz that students access with a code. After students finish a quiz, they can see their score and the time it took them to answer each question, a list of all questions, how they answered each question, and the correct answer. After students finish the quiz, teachers have the option to program Quizalize to assign an appropriate follow-up activity based on student quiz scores (review activities for weak students, enrichment activities for strong students).

Teachers see the same individual data that students see as well as data for the whole class, which includes a list of all student scores that is color-coded based on how well students perform. They can also see data based on each question, which can help them identify areas that need reteaching and review.

Below is an example of the data that teachers can see after students take a quiz on Quizalize from the blog A Lever and a Place to Stand. The first image is part of the whole-class report and the following two images are from an individual student’s report.

Teachers who use Quizalize regularly eventually have a pretty good amount of data stored on the platform that they can use to track student progress over time.

Have I used Quizalize during normal classroom instruction? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

No, I did not use Quizalize during normal classroom instruction, but I plan to use it in a manner similar to how I would use Quizizz during normal classroom instruction for assessments. Since Quizizz is free all the time, I would probably use it more frequently and I would save Quizalize for the assessments whose data I really want to study, like my mid-year and final assessments.

Have I used Quizalize now that I’m teaching remotely? If so, how? If not, how would I use it?

Next week is my last week of remote learning. I’ve designed a final assessment for students based on stories they have read during remote learning. As I mentioned in this post, my school is not grading traditionally for the fourth quarter, so I plan to use the data from the quiz to see how my students progressed while they were at home.

Do teachers need to pay for Quizalize?

Quizalize rivals Gimkit for the most disappointing free version. Like Gimkit, the free version of Quizalize is very limiting. Teachers can only set up three classes and five quizzes with a free account. Teachers who are interested in using Quizalize to track student performace and aligning quizzes to content standards would have to purchase a premium account.

My Final Thoughts:

Teachers are very lucky right now to have such a variety of options to spice up remote instruction. For those of use whose school year is coming to an end, now would be a good time to become familiar with these platforms in preparation for whatever the fall may bring when the new school year is supposed to begin.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: P is for Pear Deck

Pear Deck is a super cool tech tool that I just learned about recently. It is a Chrome Extension that allows you to create interactive slide presentations. Teachers can create new presentations directly on Pear Deck or can import presentations from PowerPoint or Google Slides. Then they can make those presentations interactive by embedding activities directly in the Pear Deck slides that students need to stop and complete during the presentation.

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with Pear Deck. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

At first, I was skeptical about using Pear Deck in a comprehensible input (CI) class, because when I searched for examples of how language teachers use Pear Deck, the videos I saw were of teachers doing explicit grammar instruction or output activities (I had a similar reaction when I first learned about Flipgrid, which you can read about here and here). As I have said many times before, explicit grammar instruction, forced output, and heavy correction of errors are not components of a CI language classroom, so I initially decided that Pear Deck was not for me.

Then I watched the amazing Elicia Cárdenas present about Pear Deck in a Fluency Fast webinar, in which she demonstrated some of the interactive, input-based activities she used when presenting with Pear Deck. Based on what Elicia shared and what I’ve seen in video tutorials, I’ve compiled a list of some of the ways world language teachers can provide CI using Pear deck:

1. Drag and Drop: Post descriptions of characters in the TL from a well-known class reading and have students drag the name of each character to the correct description. Alternatively, you can use the drag and drop function to take sentences from a well-known story and ask students to put the sentences in chronological order.

2. Draw: Post sentences in the TL and have students use Pear Deck to draw pictures to illustrate them.

3. Fill in the blank: Write an incomplete sentence from a well-known reading and have students fill in the blank using the text feature to complete the sentence.

4. Write a response: Show a picture and talk about it in the TL. Then ask the students questions about the picture in the TL for them to answer.

Alternatively, you can request details during storyasking and have students type in their suggestions.

5. Multiple Choice: Post a question in the TL about something you’ve been talking or reading about and have students choose a correct answer.

6. Listen and write/draw: The premium version of Pear Deck lets you add audio to your slides, which students can listen to and then respond by writing or drawing.

I always notice that when I give presentations in class, there are certain students who disengage, even if they know that they are going to have to complete an assessment afterwards about information from the presentation. That’s just the nature of middle school students. Pear Deck obligates them to engage and interact throughout the presentation, which I hope will help them retain information and further their proficiency in the TL.

So far I have only talked about using Pear Deck in physical classes, but many of the features I have spoken about will transfer to a synchronous, virtual class taught via video conferencing software like Zoom or Google Hangouts. I am not conducting synchronous classes, but I can still use Pear Deck in student mode, which allows students to interact with a presentation independently at their own pace.

If you are interested in learning more about Pear Deck, you’ll find more information on their blog and a TON of video tutorials on the Pear Deck YouTube channel. Pear Deck does have a free version, but unfortunately many of the features I’ve spoken about here are only available in the paid version. But if school districts continue distance learning in the fall, it may be work the expense.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: O is for OMG, Double Input!

Friends, are you familiar with the term “double input?” I first heard it two years ago in a presentation given by Kara Kane Jacobs and Arianne Dowd at a local state language conference. It refers to the practice of supplying comprehensible input (CI) in spoken form and written form simultaneously (Kara and Arianne also talked about the idea of “triple input,” which includes CI in spoken form and written form simultaneously and includes follow-up reading activities).

Any time a world language teacher shows students a video in the target language (TL) that simultaneously posts subtitles in the TL, that teacher is providing double input (I find that this is of EXTREME importance in my French classes because of the vast differences between the spoken and written language, but it’s also useful for any language if the speakers in the video are talking quickly). In a distance learning setup, one of the easiest ways teachers can provide double input to their students is by recording subtitled videos in the TL for students to watch.

Fortunately, you can find many programs that you can run on your computer to add captions. But if you are like me and either don’t want to spend the time or don’t feel comfortable using computer video editing software, your best option is to record a quick video using an app on your phone. If you have an iPhone, the app you absolutely must have is Clip-o-Matic.

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with Clip-o-Matic. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

Clip-o-Matic is SO incredibly easy to use. Once you’ve downloaded and set up your app, all you have to do is choose the language in which you plan on speaking and start recording on your phone as you normally do. You can choose from over 30 languages, which is AMAZING. The app also allows you to choose different caption styles and filters to customize your video and edit the captions in case of text inaccuracies. Once you’re done with your recording, your video will save automatically on your phone. From there you can share it with whomever (many teachers who use Clip-o-Matic upload their videos to their classroom YouTube channel and share links to them with their students).

Here’s an example of what your captions might look like (this is from Annabelle Williamson‘s YouTube channel):

You can see others here.

If you are an Android user, you will have to use an alternative app, because Clip-O-Matic is only available on an iPhone. I can’t speak to how easy or user-friendly the alternatives are, so you will have to research them and figure out which app best suits your needs. But once you find out which one suits you best, you’ll have to comment on it here on this post for other Android users. Happy recording!

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: N is for Novels

After I read some of Dr. Stephen Krashen‘s academic papers about the incredible importance of reading in the target language (TL), I implemented a pretty robust reading program in my world language classes composed of independent reading and whole-class reading. (For more on reading a novel as a class, click here. For more about independent reading in a world language class, click here). Things were going well until the current pandemic hit. When my school district closed, my seventh grade French class had only finished four chapters of Carol Gaab‘s novel Brandon Brown Veut un Chien.

The company that published the novel, Fluency Matters, generously provided access to the Brandon Brown Veut un Chien online e-course, first for free and then at a reduced and very reasonable price. The e-course included online access to the novel that students could listen to and read, access to the glossary, and three quizzes per chapter. The software automatically corrected the quizzes and recorded all grades in an online grade book. It was all very convenient and easy for me as the teacher.

Not all Fluency Matters novels are available as an e-course, but the company does offer other novels in an e-book form, meaning that it is still possible to listen to and read the novel online but the online quizzes and grade book options are not available. As far as I know, Fluency Matters is the only company that sells CI novels in electronic form, although the company TPRS Books and independent novelists like Mira Canion offer audio downloads.

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with Fluency Matters or any other businesses mentioned in this post. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

At first, I thought I was all set with remote learning work for my Grade 7 class, but very quickly I realized that assigning a novel presented a problem. I had a large number of students who plowed ahead and stayed current with their work, but I had others who didn’t engage with the novel right away, or even at all in some extreme cases. Since the work was cumulative, students couldn’t do the current week’s assignments and then go back and makeup work from previous weeks. It pretty much guaranteed that students who realized that they had to go back and start at the very beginning were even less likely to start the e-course, because ten chapters and thirty quizzes just felt like SO MUCH WORK.

My school district is already saying that we may still be teaching remotely in the fall. I’ve already decided that I will not do another whole-class novel remotely unless it’s the kind that doesn’t have a continual story arc developing from chapter to chapter. Alternatively, I may offer an e-course as a choice of assignment for those students who like to read, or I may differentiate and only assign a novel to students who successfully completed the Brandon Brown Veut un Chien online e-course (For more about classroom choice, click here. For more about differentiating while teaching remotely, click here). But I guess I’ll have to wait and make my decisions once those in authority have decided what our fall instruction will look like.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: M is for More of the Same

Friends, while I know that this blog series is about providing comprehensible input (CI) through remote learning, will you humor me a bit and let me tell you about one of my children (I have both girls and boys, but to keep said child’s confidential, I will refer to said child as “El,” and I will use both masculine and feminine pronouns when talking about him/her). I promise that I will relate this to providing CI through remote learning!

When “El” was in his/her first year of middle school, s/he started having frequent behavioral problems in school. In elementary school, s/he had gotten into trouble from time to time, but we reasoned that it was because s/he was an energetic, curious, and impulsive child and that s/he would calm down as s/he matured. And to be honest, Hubby and I often shared a good laugh over why El got in trouble, such as the time s/he had to write the apology note below after disrupting a teacher’s lesson, whose room was adjacent to the restroom:

But by the time s/he was in middle school, El’s behavior got worse, and finally Hubby and I realized that something was going on with our child and that we needed some help. Based on the recommendation of a colleague at my school, we got El a complete neurological and psychological evaluation, which revealed that s/he has High Functioning Autism (HSA), which used to be called Asperger’s Syndrome, and also Executive Dysfunction (ED).

The term “Executive Dysfunction” was new to us, but our doctor explained that about 90% of children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also had ED, meaning that they had other deficits besides the inability to pay attention and being hyperactive that could make learning challenging. Some of these include impulsivity, poor handwriting, being oversensitive to external stimuli, and difficulty organizing, self-regulating, or following multi-step directions (For more information about ED, click here. For information about how to support kids with ED in your classroom, click here).

Then the doctor told us that, as El got older and his/her schoolwork became more demanding, s/he would struggle most in his/her math and world language classes, because those classes usually required a lot of memorization of formulas, grammar rules, and vocabulary lists (This is not my main purpose for this post, but it should go without saying that a well-organized CI classroom is GREAT for students with HSA or ED!).

As Hubby and I tried to navigate our “new normal,” one of the things we noticed was that El did really well when s/he had a set routine. Students with HSA need routines to help them feel centered. As they struggle socially and academically, the routine calms them, makes them feel grounded, and lowers their anxiety. Routines help students with ED be more successful because they will know what to expect and are less likely to overlook something (Remember, organization is REALLY hard for ED students).

That brings me to this post’s letter, M, which stands for “More of the Same.” Giving students the same type of work every week while teaching remotely is a great way to help your students with ED and HSA be successfu (and is probably good for your other students, whose lives may be a little upended right now too). They’ll know exactly what to do, which means that their Affective Filter will stay low. With any luck, this will help them interact with the CI you are providing them and will help further their language proficiency.

If you’re a teacher who is overwhelmed with remote learning, you may establish your routine by assigning something simple but similar every week (like the teacher’s weekly lessons I describe in this post). Those of you who want to experiment with tech like EdPuzzle, Flipgrid, or Loom every week can still get creative, but you should still try to maintain some consistency. For example, if you give three assignments every week, make sure two of those assignments are the same type of activities you assigned the previous week and change only one. And whether you decide to give your students something simple or creative to do, consider giving them a visual schedule of what they have to do each day to help them organize their time.

If you’ve read this post, you already know that I have been using a Choice Board as one of the assignments in my classes. I’ll be honest and tell you that my ED and HSA kids REALLY struggled with this that first couple of weeks, to such an extent that I initially regretted using it and thought about abandoning it for something simpler. But ultimately I ended up keeping it, because my students eventually got the hang of it and I didn’t want to upend the routine that they had finally established. In other words, I wanted to give them more of the same.

The ABCs of Providing CI Through Remote Learning: L is for Loom

When I was teaching in a physical classroom, one way I often provided my classes with comprehensible input (CI) was by projecting a PowerPoint or Google Slide presentation and talking to the class about what was on each slide (just like many other CI teachers do, I’m sure!). Once we transitioned to remote learning, I wanted to be able to replicate that on video, so I started looking for a technology to help me do that. The one I like the most is called Loom (Shoutout to Annabelle Williamson for turning me on to this fantastic resource!).

Disclosure: I have no affiliations with Loom. I just like sharing tools that are easy, free, and help World Language teachers provide more CI to their students. 

Loom can be accessed in three different ways: in your browser, via a Chrome Extension, or through an app. I recommend that you try all three ways, because the one that works the best for you may depend on what kind of device you are using. My friends with MacBooks prefer to download the app, and the app lets you record using an iPad or iPhone too, which is nice. Colleagues I know with Chromebooks or other brands of laptops prefer the Chrome Extension. Regardless of how you access Loom, the recording mechanisms all work in a similar way.

To record a presentation on Loom, all I have to do is pull up the presentation I plan to give, open Loom, and press “record.” I have the option of recording just my computer screen, just myself, or my presentation with a small video of me in the corner. Once I’ve chosen the type of recording I want, Loom gives me a countdown (3-2-1) and starts recording. Then all I have to do is start my presentation. I usually record my presentations with a small video of me in the lower left-hand corner of my presentation, like this:

I have the option of moving that video of me, making the circle larger, or removing it entirely ( which I may start doing since it’s been four months since I’ve had a hair appointment, LOL!).

In the image above, you’ll see a set of circles next to the circular video of me. Those are the controls that let me control the size of or eliminate the video circle and manage my recording. I can present for as long as I want, because Loom does not limit the length of my recording. Once I’m done with the presentation, I click on the green circle with the check mark in it. Then Loom posts my video on my personal Loom page, where I have the option to trim my final video if I make a mistake or if it’s too long. Loom then creates a link that I can embed on my blog or share with whomever. I can also download my Loom videos and save them on my laptop if I want to.

It is so, so quick and easy to create and share videos on Loom. Before I learned about it, I recorded a few videos using the video app on my computer. What a drag! The recording usually went fine, but then I had to wait for my computer to finish processing the video and upload it to YouTube before I had a link that I could share. It was kind of a hassle, and I didn’t make that many videos because of the multiple steps I had to take to secure my final project. One video could take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour to finish and share, and sometimes it just wasn’t worth the time.

Now using Loom, the entire video making process can take as little as five minutes, and I find myself making more videos than ever because it is so quick and painless. The tutorials on Loom make it is so simple to learn that several of my low-tech/no-tech colleagues have started using it successfully too. Organization is a snap as well, because I can create folders on my Loom page to store videos in an orderly fashion.

Currently Loom offers both a free account and a paid pro account for individuals. Those with the free account can record and store up to twenty-five videos on their Loom page (although I’m not 100% sure, I think you can still record more than twenty-five videos with the free account but can only access your latest twenty-five from your personal Loom page). The pro account is usually $8 a month and comes with unlimited video storage space and a few more advanced editing tools. Loom is also rolling out accounts for teams, where groups of people can have a shared a workspace on Loom to collaborate.

While my main reason for recording videos with Loom is to provide CI to my students while we’re distance learning, I’ve also made videos to explain assignments or just say hi (my classes don’t meet synchronously). Below are some other ideas for use of Loom videos in the classroom courtesy of Kathleen Morris:

I know that teachers have a choice of using other programs like Screencastify, Screencast-o-matic, and even Zoom to make videos for the classroom as well. I’ve explored using Zoom, which can be cumbersome (but can allow you to add a virtual background to provide even more CI, like I discussed in this post), but I have little experience with Screencastify (which limits the lengths of free videos to five minutes and can only be used with a computer) and Screencast-o-matic (which limits the lengths of free videos to fifteen minutes). I’m quite happy with Loom, and will continue to incorporate it’s use in my class as I am teaching remotely, and will probably even use it once in a while once our school buildings are open and schools are back in normal session.