A New Way To Think About Grading

This past Tuesday I got the chance to hear Lance P. give a presentation about his grading system. Lance is a teacher based here in New England who teaches exclusively with comprehensible input (CI). The system he has created is designed to reduce the amount of time teachers spend assessing and grading.

Lance started his presentation by sharing a surprising statistic, namely that teachers in most classrooms spend 20% of their classroom time assessing students. This works out to be about two out of the ten months that classes are in session. In addition, most assessments are obtrusive assessments, meaning that no instruction, and subsequently no language acquisition, is happening while students complete the assessment (even when they’re done early, they either do homework for another class, read, or cause trouble). Considering how much time can be lost due to assessments, Lance said that second language teachers should try to limit the amount of assessing they do so they have more time to deliver input. He continued by saying that constant assessment would do nothing to further student language proficiency. As the saying goes, “Weighing the pig doesn’t make it fatter.”

A typical assessment in Lance’s class is a 4-point, true/false quiz given orally based on a reading that is projected in front of the class. For example, if one of the Latin sentences in the reading says that a boy likes coffee, his true/false question might be, “The boy likes tea.” This quiz takes only five minutes or so to administer. When he is done giving the quiz, he has students correct their papers while he reviews the answers to the quiz in the target language (TL), which in his case is Latin. By reviewing answers in the TL, students receive more input and hear more repetitions of high frequency words that Lance wants his students to acquire. Once students are done grading the quizzes, he collects them and puts them in PowerSchool, which is the grading program he uses.

Here is where things get interesting. Lance puts all those assessment scores into his grade book, but they carry ZERO WEIGHT. Let me say that again. They have NO EFFECT on a student’s average. Since they don’t affect a student’s class grade, he does not obligate them to make the quizzes up if they are absent. He marks that student as exempt in PowerSchool for that assessment. Homework assignments also carry zero weight, so instead of chasing students who don’t turn in work, he simply marks the assignment as “Missing” in PowerSchool.

After reading the previous paragraph, you are undoubtedly wondering, “Well then how do students earn grades in his class?” They earn grades by self-assessing using what Lance calls an Input Expectations Rubric. Students self-evaluate their behavior, attitude, class attendance, and work habits in class (I am unclear if he does this once or twice a quarter). Lance then reviews the student evaluations and, if necessary, adjusts the grades based on the homework and assessment scores he has in PowerSchool. So if an exemplary student tries to be humble and give herself a low score on the Input Expectations Rubric, Lance will increase the student’s score and will explain why. That final score on the Input Expectations Rubric, whether adjusted or not, becomes the student’s grade for the quarter (If he has students self-assess twice a quarter, I assume he averages those grades together).

After reading this, you may be wondering, “What about language proficiency? Why isn’t he grading that?” Lance’s answer to this is pretty simple. He says, “students who receive input that they understand (CI) will—WILL—acquire the language.” In other words, we don’t need to measure whether or not students are acquiring language because if they meet classroom expectations, they just naturally are. It’s that simple (He does include an estimated proficiency chart on his Input Expectations Rubric, but that is just to inform the student and parents and does not factor into the student’s grade).

This grading system seems very fair to me. Students who do what they are supposed to do will get a good grade and will acquire language. Those that don’t do what they are supposed to do will not get a good grade and will not acquire language. And by not expecting all students to reach a certain proficiency level or master a certain language component in the same amount of time, the weak processor/slow acquirer will not be penalized for something that s/he has no control over.

Check out Lance’s website for more information about his grading system and his thoughts on CI in general. Could you make this grading system work in your second language classes?

 

 

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Classroom Management, Part 2

In my previous post, I gave some general guidelines about managing student behavior in the comprehensible input (CI) classroom. In this post, I’m going to take a look at three classroom management systems specific to the CI classroom. None of these is my original idea. They all have one thing in common, which is the desire to create a classroom environment with minimal disturbances so that students can be exposed to as much input as possible.

The first system I’m going to discuss is Ben and Tina’s classroom management plan. Ben Slavic wrote a bit about classroom management in The Big CI Book, and he teamed up with Tina Hargarden to write the book, A Natural Approach to the Year: A Year of Lesson Plans for the First-Year Proficiency-Based Classroom, in which Ben and Tina have outlined their classroom management plan. Ben and Tina see the first six weeks of class (give or take) as the time when the teacher should train their students to behave in the classroom. Classroom behavior is managed mainly through use of an Interpersonal Communication Rubric and phone calls home – MADE DURING CLASS SO ALL STUDENTS HEAR! – when students’ grade on the rubric is below 80%. In addition, Ben and Tina outline their plan for classroom disruption, which I have summarized below.

  • Ben and Tina advise starting with Plan A. Walk over to the classroom rule sign. Point to the rule being broken, smile, and say nothing until students settle down. Do this as many times as needed.
  • If a particular student refuses to settle down, move on to Plan B. Without speaking, move physically to the student misbehaving , stare at him or her, and use body language (hands on hips, body facing the student) until the disruption ceases.
  • Ben and Tina say that, once they move to Plan B, they then call home to discuss behavior and also try to make that student the center of attention in class for a few days. They may assign him or her a class job to redirect the negative behavior. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to move to Plan C, where the teacher calmly kneels next to the student, smiles, and says something like, “This keeps happening and it needs to stop. If it happens again, we will have a longer conversation.” Ben and Tina recommend that you call home after an exchange like this.
  • If the student’s behavior doesn’t improve, it’s time to move on to Plan D, where the teacher asks the student into the hall for a private, non-confrontational conversation. Without smiling or making eye contact with the student, the teacher  calmly asks, “What was happening?” “How is that a problem for the class?” “How is that a problem for me as your teacher?” “How is this going to be a problem for you if you don’t stop?” After this exchange, it is time to call home again.
  • If behavior is still an issue after this, Plan E is deployed, where the teacher reaches out to administrators and counselors for help.

If you are interested in trying this classroom management plan, I recommend that you buy Ben and Tina’s bookA Natural Approach to the Year: A Year of Lesson Plans for the First-Year Proficiency-Based Classroom, which contains a more detailed explanation of their classroom management plan.

The second classroom management plan I’m going to discuss is Mike and Craig’s classroom management plan. Mike Coxon and Craig Sheehy are both former classroom teachers who now train teachers to teach using Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). When they were classroom teachers, they both used a system where they gave the students opportunities to earn points for positive behavior. During class, a timer was set for eight minutes. If students broke one of the classroom rules during that eight minutes, the timer was reset to zero and students tried again. Once  students made it all the way to eight minutes without breaking rules, they earned a point. Once students had a certain number of points, they earned a predetermined reward. I have written about their management system before in this post.

The third and final classroom management plan I’m going to discuss is Annabelle Allen’s classroom management plan. Annabelle employs a point system also, but because she calls herself “La Maestra Loca,” her plan is a bit crazier than Mike and Craig’s. First of all, she rewards them points for positive behavior she sees and gives HERSELF points for any negative behavior she sees.

Capture

She does not reward points with a timer like Mike and Craig do. In addition, she gives students points arbitrarily and those points become rewards arbitrarily. Sometimes she gives a reward if the class can earn more points than the teacher for a certain period of time. On other occasions, she has all her classes compete for an arbitrary length of time (a week, a month) and the reward goes to the class that earns the most points. She believes, and I tend to agree, that changing the reward keeps the whole system exciting and novel, which keeps student enthusiasm high. You can read more about her thoughts and techniques for behavior management on her blog.

No matter what kind of classroom management system you set up, what is important is that you find some sort of way to control any negative behaviors you see in your class. And no matter what behavior plan you use, remember that the best way to maintain positive behavior in class is through your lesson plan. And if you are a new teacher, go easy on yourself if you have those days that the class gets a little crazy. It happens to everybody. What is important is that you try to remain consistent and calm with your expectations and that you can learn from you mistakes and improve your management skills over time.

 

Classroom Management, Part 1

I recently became a mentor of a beginning language teacher, who expressed that one of the biggest struggles she has is dealing with classroom management. This is a very typical problem for beginning teachers of any subject, but can be especially troublesome in the comprehensible input (CI) classroom.

In the CI classroom, the teachers’ main goal is to provide input. In order for this to happen, students need to be open and attentive to the messages they hear and read. When students exhibit negative behavior, they, and possibly those around them, stop paying attention to the input and won’t acquire as much language as they could if they were behaving properly. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that teachers find a way to address and discourage negative behavior when teaching with a CI approach.

Here are some general guidelines about managing student behavior.

1. The best defense is a good offense. The more compelling and engaging lessons your lessons are, the fewer discipline issues you will have. I had many more behavior problems when I taught traditionally than I do now. While that may be partially due to my inexperience as a teacher, a lot of issues arose because of how I was presenting the subject matter. It is very hard to make explicit language teaching compelling, and those students who were weak in grammar or couldn’t memorize thirty words on a vocabulary list soon found themselves struggling. That caused many students to shut down, give up, and, since they were bored and frustrated, start acting out.

Teaching with CI leveled the playing field. Since I don’t teach grammar explicitly or require students to memorize lists of vocabulary words, I have more successful students. In addition, the variety of interesting, fun activities I can do with CI creates a lot of student engagement. And, as Ben Slavic says, if your students are engaged, they will be so busy hanging on your every word that they will forget to act up.

Nevertheless, I know that even the most well-behaved and mature students may zone out or fidget on occasion, which is why I also recommend that you incorporate a few Brain Breaks into every class. Students will be able to relax and move around for a short time, which will make it easier for them to focus. Even the simple act of having the class stand up and sit down a few times can energize them. And in addition, Brain Breaks are fun!

In addition, think about the maturity of your students as you plan your lessons. Younger students, who have shorter attention spans, will need more Brain Breaks and variety than older students will. When I taught at the high school level, I planned two or three different activities per class. Now that I teach at a middle school, my classes have between three and five activities per class. The younger the student, the more variety they need.

Also, think about the time of day and time of year your class is meeting as you choose your CI activity. Student energy levels differ depending on when your class meets. I personally find that my students are most likely to act up after lunch and during the last period of the day before a long weekend or vacation. And younger students may be so excited by the anticipation of summer break that they just can’t control themselves as the weather gets warmer. Keep variables like that in mind as you plan your lessons. I find that those are the days when I play games with my students. You can read about games I play in my class here and here. Alternatively, morning classes are a great time for Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) because students are pretty calm then (you can read about FVR here).

And finally, think about the overall personality of your class as you plan your lessons. I find that classes with a lot of extroverted students respond very well to Storyasking with student actors. However, it is not always effective with my quiet classes, who tend not to make a lot of suggestions and refuse to be students actors. I tend to do more Story Listening with the quiet classes because it fits their temperaments better.

2. Turn your classroom into a community. Classes where students feel safe and respected usually have students who behave better than those where there’s a “teacher versus student” mentality. I create community in a number of ways. First, I have followed the advice of Ben Slavic and Bryce Hedstrom and have set up class jobs. This system is great for making students feel that they are contributing to the class (Read more about that here). Do you have a kid who can’t sit still? Make him your messenger. Do you have a student who likes to doodle? Make her your class artist. Students will be so busy doing their jobs that they will forget to act up.

Another activity that creates community is setting up a password system. Bryce Hedstrom has written extensively about passwords, and has a book out about them too. In my class, students are not allowed to enter the room until they have greeted me at the door with “Bonjour, Madame” or “Buenos días, Señora” and they have said the password for entry into the classroom. So a typical password exchange goes like this:

Student: Bonjour, Madame (Hello Madam).

Me: Salut (Hi). Quelle heure est-il (What time is it)? – This is my part of the password

Student: Je ne sais pas (I don’t know). – This is the students’ part of the password.

Students are also required to make eye contact with me. This establishes a connection between the two of us and helps contribute to the community building (some other teachers, mostly males, also require students to shake hands, because touch also establishes a connection). For that brief exchange, that one student has my undivided attention. They know that I see them and that they are the most important person in my life at the moment. I hope it makes them feel special and valued and that they are an important member of my class and school community.

Another great activity that builds community is the Special Person Interview. This is another activity that comes from Bryce Hedstrom. This activity requires students to answer a series of questions about themselves. As a result, the class as a whole gets to learn a lot of information about each other. Thanks to this activity, I know everyone’s birthday and we acknowledge them all. And as we learn about who likes to watch Gilmore Girls and who is afraid of clowns, we build our community by getting to know each other better, and over time student behavior improves.

One practice that definitely does not build community is refusing to translate into the native language when students are confused. This is a topic I have written about before in this post. I’m not advocating that teachers should translate words that could be easily explained through gestures or visuals (for example, my students recognize the word for “dog” and “cat” in French but I have never said the English equivalent in class). But I also think that refusing to translate more abstract expressions like “should” will result in a huge waste of class time as the teacher tries to explain the word through gestures or visuals. It will also set up a power struggle in your class where the teacher knows the translation and the students do not. The “teacher versus students” environment that may be created could lead to some behavior issues if they decide to act out in response to what they see as an unfair, tyrannical practice (I once had a student yell “Screw you” and walk out of class because he was so frustrated that he didn’t understand what was being said). A teacher who is willing to translate (maybe as a last resort in some instances) sends the message that s/he is committed to ensuring that all students understand the language and thus are capable of being successful in class.

3. Be fair, consistent, respectful, and firm. At one of my previous jobs, I taught with a guy who was funny and friendly. He would sometimes “hold court” by telling the students jokes and stories instead of teaching a full lesson. Nobody needed permission to leave the room, so his students were constantly roaming the halls. Students often talked about how funny this teacher was and how much they enjoyed his class…until he tried to hold them accountable for something. Then these same students began to rebel and complain about the class by saying things like, “I failed that test, but how could I pass it when the guy doesn’t really teach?” And some students, who were used to the chaotic atmosphere of the class, started misbehaving because they erroneously believed that they could do anything they want because the teacher didn’t really enforce any rules. By the spring, the teacher was always stressed out because he had no control over his students, and on at least one occasion he completely lost his temper and started screaming at the class. After that, student behavior would improve marginally, but the cycle would begin again before too long.

Across the hall from the popular teacher was another teacher who operated using a different strategy. He greeted every student by name when they walked into class. He made a point to say “please” and “thank you” regularly when talking to students. He had a few rules that he enforced fairly, respectfully, and consistently. If he made a mistake, he would apologize to the class and make restitution. He would joke good-naturedly with the class, but he let it be known that there was a line that students could not cross. He attended as many concerts, sports competitions, and quiz bowl tournaments as he could to support his students. He held the students accountable for their mistakes too and made himself available to help struggling students. As far as I know, this teacher never had any major discipline problems except for too much talking every once in a while.

The moral of the story is that you absolutely will not be able to manage your class by being the cool, popular teacher. Students may like that teacher, but they will not respect him or her enough to listen to him or her and follow instructions. Do not try to be your students’ friend by creating an atmosphere where the students feel that they are on equal footing with you. Instead, create an atmosphere where you are a fair, respectful, and kind  authority figure who expects students to show respect for all people in the class and the class procedures.

And finally, if you find yourself struggling with managing behavior in your classes, consider reading up about classroom management for ideas and help. You may want to subscribe to the Smart Classroom Management website, which sends out regular newsletters addressing common classroom management issues. And don’t be afraid to ask your department head or administrative team for help. They can suggest books for you to read, can help you find professional development opportunities to attend, and come to your classroom to observe and constructively critique your classroom management skills. I know it may be embarrassing to admit that you are struggling , but be proactive and not reactive. It is much better to swallow your pride and ask for help as soon as you realize you need it than explain to your administrator that you are struggling after parents have called the school to complain that your class is too rowdy an environment for their child to learn.

Look for a second installment to this post soon where I discuss some CI-specific classroom management strategies.

Resources for La France en Danger

French teacher friends, I know that Mira Canion is busy preparing a teacher’s guide for her novel La France en Danger. I offer you some ideas about how to teach the novel and offer access to some of the resources I have created for it. You can use them while you wait for the guide to be available for purchase, or even as a compliment to the guide once you have it.

Chapter 1

In the first chapter, the most important thing to do before you start reading the chapter is to make sure the students have some background information regarding some of the cultural references in the novel. In order to do that, I created this PowerPoint that I used to talk about Pauline and Luc (the two protagonists), Paris, the World’s Fair, Pablo Picasso, and the bombing of Guernica.

I also wrote this reading in very simple French to provide background knowledge about Charles de Gaulle and Maréchal Pétain, who do not appear in the book but are mentioned. I did not do any formal assessments on this, since all I wanted was that my students knew who fought on which side during World War Two.

And finally, I wrote this reading in English about the Spear of Destiny. I felt that the topic was too difficult for my students to read in French, so I came up with a reading in English followed by questions in French.

Chapter 2

The most important part of Chapter 2 is the introduction of the two agents, Roger and Marcel. After we read the chapter I divided my class into four groups and assigned each group a character from the chapter, either  Pauline, Luc, Roger, and Marcel. Each group was responsible for drawing a picture of their character and writing a description in French of each person. Then we displayed the pictures in class and I did some question/answer with the class where I asked questions like, “Qui a 24 ans?” and “Qui a de longs cheveux bruns?” Then we compared the four characters with students in the class (Alternatively, you could just have your groups draw a picture of their character, put them on display, and then describe them to the class in French one sentence at a time and have your students guess which character is being described).

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 contains information about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica painting, so I did a number of cultural activities related to the painting before we read the chapter. The activities were designed to help students develop an appreciation of the painting and to introduce some vocabulary that they would need while reading the chapter. You will see that I have five different activities here, but most of them are relatively short, lasting at most 15 minutes each.

First, I showed this PowerPoint about Pablo Picasso. I wanted my class to know that he had created realistic artwork before he developed his modern style that he is most known for and to connect Picasso to Paris, where he was living when he painted Guernica.

Second, I created this “I Spy” activity to encourage students to examine elements in the painting and develop the French vocabulary needed to comprehend the chapter.

Third, to familiarize students with some body part words they need for the chapter, I created this matching sheet where students had to match descriptions with the Picasso painting being described.

I also created this matching sheet to help students think about possible symbols in Guernica.

And finally, I created this quick drawing assignment to reinforce names of body parts in the chapter.

Chapter 4

In Chapter 4, Pauline and Luc go to the famous café-restaurant, Les Deux Magots. I created two resources to go along with it.

Here is the PowerPoint presentation I created about Les Deux Magots to give kids some background information about it.

Here is the Web Quest I created for which students had to search the menu and answer questions about it. Students accessed the menu in french but my Web Quest is in English because I am using it as an Interpretive Listening assignment.

Chapter 5

In this chapter, Pauline and Luc visit la Sainte-Chapelle. Here is the PowerPoint I made about la Sainte-Chapelle.

Chapter 6

In this chapter, Luc and Pauline arrive in Antibes in Pauline’s car, a 1937 Talbot-Lago. You can find lots of great pictures of one of these on Google Images, like the one below.

Talbot Lago 1937

Here’s a great poster for the car too.

Talbot-Lago

In this chapter, Luc and Pauline walk down the promenade Amiral de Grasse. I used Google Maps to “walk” along the promenade so students could get an idea of what the area looks like (and appreciate its gorgeous view!).

Chapter 7

In this chapter, Luc and Pauline enter the Château Grimaldi. Here is the PowerPoint I made to go along with this.

(By the way, it was in this chapter that I realized that the author is not being faithful to the original timeline (which I’m fine with, by the way, because it works in the story). Pauline and Luc go to Antibes because Luc said that Picasso had a connection with the Château Grimaldi. It is already a Picasso museum in the novel, which takes place in 1937. In reality, Picasso did not go to Antibes, where he lived in the Château Grimaldi and contributed a number of paintings to the museum that eventually opened there, until 1946. I don’t think it’s that important to mention the timeline manipulation to students but wanted to make sure that any teachers reading this knew the truth.)

Chapter 8 

In this chapter, Marcel approaches Pauline dressed as a princess with plans to steal her notebook, which contains notes about the location of the Lance du Destin. I did a little Reader’s Theater for this chapter, complete with props (a long-haired wig and a tiara).

Chapter 9

This chapter has the car chase. Roger and Marcel chase Pauline and Luc through Antibes. At the end of this chapter, Pauline and Luc escape when Roger’s car crashes. This is a really short chapter, but I did bring in some miniature cars so we could reenact the car chase.

Chapter 10

In this chapter, the action moves to the city of Arles. Here is the PowerPoint I made about the bull celebrations in Arles.

There are also many videos in YouTube with bull running in Arles. If you decide to look for a video for this, it is very important that you specify “Arles” in your search or else you will end up with bull running in Spain instead.

Since students were not familiar with the practice of bull running, this is a very important chapter to review visually. I used a SmartBoard so students could see the main characters jump the barrier onto the bull running course, the bulls running into the characters on the road, and the main characters’ subsequent jump back over the barrier to safety.

Chapter 11

In this chapter, Luc and Pauline go to a bullfight in Arles. Since bullfighting is only legal in southern France, I decided not to spend too much time talking about the practice. I showed this video about bullfighting in Arles and then explained events quickly in English as needed when we read the chapter.

Chapter 12

In this chapter, Pauline is in possession of the Lance of Destiny and runs to a park while Marcel and Roger pursue her. This is also the chapter where Roger captures Luc. This is another chapter that needs to be reviewed visually, so once again I used my SmartBoard to draw the action in the chapter.

Chapter 13

This is the final chapter! I won’t spoil the ending by telling you the outcome, but I will tell you that Reader’s Theater is a great activity to do as a chapter review.

If you are doing this book with your students, I would love to trade resources! Let me know what fun activities you planned for this text!

Rachel’s Awesome Carlos Game

Last Friday my friend Rachel, a Spanish teacher who teaches with comprehensible input (CI) in her classroom, shared a game she plays in class that she calls the Carlos game. (I don’t know if she created it or if she found it elsewhere. If you know the origin of this game, let me know so I can give credit to its inventor). Here is how you play it.

  1. In the game, students get in a large circle sitting on chairs.
  2. The teacher then either writes a question on the board or else projects the question on a screen. The question can be about anything. The class then chooses a silly answer to the question. Her class likes “Carlos” as the silly answer, which is why she calls it the Carlos game.
  3. For the first round, a student is selected as the questioner. That person’s chair is removed from the circle.
  4. The students, including the questioner, close their eyes, and the teacher walks around and taps either two or three students (depending on class size) silently.
  5. Students open their eyes and the questioner starts asking students the question for that round.
  6. Students who were not tapped must give a real, truthful answer. Students who were tapped must respond to the question with the silly answer. So, for example, if the question is, “What are you afraid of?” the students answer truthfully except for anyone who was tapped, who says in the target language, “I am afraid of Carlos” (or whatever your silly word is).
  7. All students must get up, run to another chair, and sit down. The person left without a chair becomes the new questioner.
  8. Play then continues from #2 above.

I played this in class today and students absolutely loved it. Here are a few variations you can add to your game.

  1. Number of students tapped to give the silly answer. The fewer students tapped by the teacher (see #4 above), the more repetitions of the question the student will hear. When I played this, I tapped multiple students when the question was “What is your name?” because my students had heard that so many times. When the question was less common, like “What are you afraid of?” I tapped fewer students so students would hear the question repeatedly, which would, with any luck, increase the chances that they will acquire it.
  2. Brainstorm possible answers to the question before questioning the students. This reviews words and expressions that students may not have seen in a while and, with any luck, eliminates any anxious feelings students may have about answering the question.
  3. Length of play. You could use this as a review game and prepare possible questions on slides and play this game for an entire regular class period (or half a block class period) or you can create your questions on the fly and use it as a filler activity when you have minutes left at the end of class.
  4. Silly responses. Rachel’s presentation led me to believe that the answer to every question is “Carlos” when she plays this game. I decided to group my questions by type (who, what, where, how) and come up with multiple silly responses, some of which were new words that provided some sneaky CI.

If you’ve read my blog previously, you may remember what I had to say about games in the CI classroom. Add this one to the list of fun, equitable CI games that I plan on playing from now on.

Teaching Level 1 Themes with Comprehensible Input

When I visit the IFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching group on Facebook, I often encounter posts from teachers who would like to teach with comprehensible input (CI) but need help getting started. These teachers inevitably need some guidance on how to provide CI while still teaching certain topics that they are told they must cover.

If you are one of these teachers, my suggestion to you is that you start making the shift from traditional to CI with your Level 1 classes. There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, you will be the students’ first language teacher, which means you will not have students trained by a traditional teacher that you will then have to retrain. Second, themes in first-year modern language classrooms are basic enough that they can be presented easily using CI.

When I decided to embrace CI, I started with some backwards planning. I went through the Level 1 textbook and made a list of topics in the book. Then I listed one or two CI approaches I could use to address many of these topics. Here is the list I compiled for my first-year Spanish and French classes.

When I start out the year, I begin each class with Calendar Talk. Here is a video of how Tina Hargarden does Calendar Talk. In my class, we talk about the day (today, yesterday, tomorrow), any upcoming holidays, the weather, what season in is, and, since we have a rotating schedule, what the time is. This eliminates those isolated lessons on those subjects that are usually at the beginning of a first-year book.

Then, as Ben Slavic and other, more established CI teachers recommend, I do Card Talk. This activity used to be called Circling with Balls. My students draw pictures of something like to play and any pet(s) they may have on a card. Then I use Personalized Question and Answer to introduce the expressions “like(s) + infinitive” and “I/You have” and “S/he has.” Students also hear the names of sports and instruments, most of which are cognates, and some animals (usually “dog” and “cat” but sometimes other things like “guinea pig” and “rabbit.”).

Following that, I do Special Person Interviews. I can introduce SO much vocabulary due to the variety of questions I ask. By the time I finish my interviews, my students have been exposed to expressions like dates and numbers (from questions like “How old are you” and “When is your birthday”), activities (“What do you like to do”), food (“What is your favorite/least favorite food”), family members (“Do you have any brothers or sisters”) and names of school classes (“What is your favorite/least favorite class). If you are a French teacher, visit my French Resources page for my Personne Spéciale documents. Spanish teachers can visit my Spanish Resources page for the Spanish version.

After those first two activities, which can take me through mid-October (or even longer depending on class size), I have no set order in which to do my other activities. I am constantly taking things out and adding new things. One activity that I do one year in September I might not do until December another year. I don’t care about when the topics are addressed as long as they are addressed at some point during the school year.

Finally, I have learned to let go of the compulsion to teach all thematic vocabulary words together and have embraced the idea that they will pick them up in bits and pieces throughout the year (Click here for more about my thoughts about thematic units). Take expressions to describe the weather and seasons, for example. In my class, we learn them as the year progresses. In August when we come back to school students will learn to say that it is hot and sunny because it is still summer. In November they will learn to say that it is cool and windy because it is fall. In January they will be able to talk about snow and cold temperatures because it is winter, and in April they will be able to talk about rain because it is spring. Where is it written that a student has to learn all expressions to describe the weather and seasons, or by extension all clothing, food, or names of family members all at once?

And finally, let’s address the elephant in the room…the explicit grammar that some people feel is necessary to teach. I only do pop-up grammar in my classes, because, based on the research by Stephen Krashen and Bill Van Patten that I have read, I know that explicit grammar lessons do not further language acquisition. And I am lucky because I work in a district that has embraced CI. If you are obligated to teach grammar, I recommend that you read this post, in which I talk about ways to teach grammar in ways that maximize class time for comprehensible input in class.

Once the shift has been made with first-year classes, you can start to alter the second year textbook to CI. But that is a blog post for another day.