Sometimes You Just Have to Play the Game

As I have mentioned before in this blog, I recently left a position teaching French and Spanish that I held for 14 years at a high school. At first I taught traditionally and was well-liked by other teachers in my department, but once I started learning about and teaching with comprehensible input (CI), I went from being a respected colleague to persona non grata pretty fast. My Department Head did not like my new teaching methods because she felt that I wasn’t adhering to the curriculum (otherwise known as “Covering what was in the textbook”), so I tried my best to blend the textbook material with CI to appease her.

At first I tried a hybrid approach. I would spend one week doing textbook stuff and another week doing CI. The problem was that my students did very well during our CI week but stopped making any progress during our textbook week. Additionally, my structure was so completely different depending on the week that some of my students had issues figuring out what was expected of them.

As time went on, I started becoming more confident in my own teaching skills and, as a result, began doing more and more CI and less and less textbook work. My students made more progress, but my Department Head was unhappy that I did not explicitly “cover” certain topics. As a result, I got really good at “Playing the Game,” that is, making sure to “cover” textbook topics without sacrificing much classroom time. Here are a few things that I recommend if you are in a similar situation.

1. Get to know Quizlet. Quizlet is an online program that I used quite often. This program allows you to create a study set that students can access and study by completing different types of activities or playing different types of games (See this link for more information if you are unfamiliar with this site).

When I was expected to teach certain vocabulary words, I would create a new study set on Quizlet (Most of the time I would look at the quiz ahead of time and create a study set with only the words on the quiz). On Monday I would quickly introduce the words. Then at the beginning of class on Tuesday through Thursday, reviewing the study set for five minutes or so was my bellringer assignment (It is important to give up class time for this so that you are not accused of assessing students on something that you did not “cover” in class). The homework assignment for Monday through Thursday night was to review the Quizlet set for and then quiz on them during Friday’s class. Our textbook had simple, multiple choice reading quizzes that I used for the Friday assessment (Most textbooks come with quizzes like these, otherwise it is pretty easy to create some yourself). It took at most 15 minutes for students to take one of these quizzes.

2. Ask students to take notes for homework.  Along with vocabulary, I was also expected to “cover” certain grammar topics. I was able to assign note taking for homework for most of the simpler topics from the textbook. Teacher’s Discovery sells a series of flipped lesson books in French and Spanish that I was able to purchase with department funds (although I don’t recommend spending your own money on them because it is super easy to create them yourself) that I could photocopy and give out. Here is what a sample page looks like, which students would have to complete for homework.

Capture 1

Students would bring this completed page to class for homework credit. Sometimes I would give a quiz on the topic that students could take with their notes, although I was careful to ask very simple questions on the quiz where students would have to report what they learned but not apply it. For example, if I gave a quiz on the above worksheet I would ask students to produce conjugations of both verbs but would not give them questions where they would have to choose between the two verbs.

3. Assign students videos to watch on YouTube. YouTube has so many language instructional videos available that are easy to take advantage of, so sometimes instead of asking students to take notes on a topic using the textbook I would ask them to watch a video about that topic instead. Here is a video that I assigned when introducing Spanish students to the imperfect tense. Sometimes students would also have to take notes on the video they watched, which would serve as proof that they watched the video (By the way, the guy that made this video has since abandoned grammar instruction, and I have heard that he has even thought about taking down the grammar videos he has on YouTube because they don’t reflect his teaching style anymore). And, just liked I did with the flipped lessons I discussed previously, sometimes I would give a quiz on the topic that students could take using their notes.

4. Make a deal. Last year when I was the only person teaching Spanish 3 I went to my Department Head and asked, “What do I absolutely have to cover and what can I skip?” She and I came up with a list of topics that she said I absolutely had to cover, which I did using the methods I have already discussed above. I was then able to spend the rest of my class time doing CI activities. I was able to do this because I was the only person teaching Spanish 3. When I shared sections of Spanish 1 or French 2 with another teacher we needed to be “on the same page,” so I had to do much more textbook stuff then.

5. Have a grammar day every week, every two weeks, or monthly. Some teachers consistently take time out of class for language study days, ideally after many days of CI-driven classes with plenty of examples of the grammar constructions that the teacher plans to discuss on grammar days (A teacher I know has joked that she since she plans to follow this model in her middle school classes, she might dress up like a dinosaur while she does it because the practice of teaching grammar explicitly is so ancient).

5. Do an end-of-the-year cram session. This is not something that I ever tried but I do  know of a few CI teachers that have spent most of the year doing nothing but CI activities and then switch to straight textbook instruction for the last six weeks of the year. From what I have heard, students have few problems grasping the textbook instruction after spending so much time being exposed to CI. But I must confess that I was never brave enough to try this. If you have done this, please comment on your experience.

In closing, let me say that I absolutely HATED having to play the game, which is one of the reasons I traded in my last job for one where I can teach using 100% CI. Some of you might not be so lucky, and if you are in a position similar to the one in which I used to be, good luck playing the game. Let me know if I can offer any insight to help you out!

3 thoughts on “Sometimes You Just Have to Play the Game

  1. authenticsenora says:

    Last year was my 6th year teaching and my 3rd year at that school. I also decided to leave after gaining confidence in CI and true SLA and not being able to make it work with a textbook department. This year I am on my own in an itsy bitsy school and get to do whatever I want. I am so glad I came across your blog! I will definitely start browsing as I try to create my own program. 🙂 Nice to meet you out here in CI cyberspace!


    • sraarch says:

      Hi! Nice to meet you too! I’m so glad you made the change and have some freedom. Isn’t it so liberating? It sounds as if you are much better off at your new job. Starting your own program is hard. I’m starting a new program too. I hope I can be helpful.


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