When planning for a CI class, or week, or month, the basic ingredient is comprehensible language. Simply the language, made comprehensible. That’s like the water we are giving to the plants, our students. The activity/method/lesson plan, then, is like the container that carries the water. Some may prefer sprinklers, others hoses, others watering cans, and others perhaps a dainty teacup. The goal is the same no matter what container we use to carry the water – feed our thirsty plants, our students, the water of language that they can understand.
We have gone and made the simple so complicated. We have gone and made all these rules and parts and different factions and schools of thought. We have somewhat bought into the idea that there is One Way to Do It…when in reality there are many ways to water a garden and many ways to deliver understandable language to our students.
Of course, people have their preferred ways of watering a garden, and in a gardeners’ club or professional landscapers’ convention, there might be heated debates about how best to water, what nozzle attachment is ideal, what kinds of hoses are best, or most durable, or whatever. But the goal is the same – watering the plants, giving them the ingredients they need to live.
It is natural that people who are passionate about gardening would debate passionately about something as important as keeping their plants alive. And in the world of comprehension-based teaching, we also have these heated debates. It is normal, and natural, and desirable, even, for it leads to growth. It is also uncomfortable. I get that. But even the most hated of these debates are simply about how best to get the water from the spigot to the plants. They are all about the merits of different delivery systems.
The goal is the same – watering our students’ minds, giving them the ingredient they need to build their very own unique mental representation of the language.
So some people are clutching their hose, and others are waving their teacups, and others are fashioning a watering can that they say works better for them. And yet, at the end of the day, we will all water our students’ minds. Our students will all leave our classrooms far stronger than they entered. They will all feel our love and passion for the language and the commitment we made to their acquisition. We really cannot go wrong.
No matter what container the CI comes in, students in a garden where the language is being fed to them constantly will all be stronger than they would if they had been planted in a garden where the teacher only sometimes sprinkled droplets of water – perhaps reading a dialogue for the textbook or describing a picture in a workbook or learning the words to a song or doing some TPR here and there- and mostly just delivered powdered water – textbook pages and grammar explanations in English and drills and fill-in-the-blanks verb charts and vocab flashcards and the like.
This bears repeating, people. If we are watering our gardens with language that is comprehensible, if the students are engaging with speech and text that convey messages they can understand, that is ALL THAT MATTERS. The rest is the esoteric infighting of passionate aficionados, the Garden Society of CI, about the nuances of different sprinkler heads or drip tape versus sprinkler hose.
WHAT MATTERS is that our students her a lot of language and that the language is comprehensible and somewhat interesting, as close to what Dr. Stephen Krashen calls “compelling” (see this article) as we can get. If we are just starting out, or we are not feeling it that day, or we are coming down with a cold, or we have a substitute teacher, then “somewhat interesting” is OK. I mean, people, I can talk about the weather and calendar for, like, twenty minutes with my first-years for the first month or so of class. It actually seems riveting to them.
So, if you are madly trying to follow this blogger and that blogger, this flavor of CI and that, and you are confused, or if you watch the sparks fly in debates about different ways to deliver the language, please take a deep breath. And think, I can choose the container that works for me. I just have to get the water to the plants.
Imagine the CI community like this. You are in the gardening store. It is the “professional-grade” kind of gardening store that has, like, a gazillion different sprinkler heads and watering cans and hoses and drip tape and sprinkler tape and water wands and things you did not even know existed, to get water from Place A to Place B. You know you need to water your plants and you want to choose the best item to do so. So you stand there, reading the backs of all the different products, wondering which one is the best to get.
And, at the same time, there is a convention of super-passionate gardeners and landscape professionals and even the people who invented and are selling the very products that you are comparing. And this convention is going on, right there in the aisle. And, because these people are super-passionate, they sometimes get out of hand. The product developers wave their particular kind of watering can and insist that it is superior. It looks messy, but these people are all talking about the same goal. They all just want to keep their plants alive and help you get water to your plants too.
And so as you wonder which product to get, because you also feel passionately about keeping YOUR garden alive, it feels like a big decision. It is. You have limited money to invest. You have limited time to learn how to use these different things. Really, your end goal is to sit back and look at some beautiful lush landscaping in your yard.
Here is the secret, though, and what I want you to take comfort in. You are already a winner! You FOUND the SECRET AISLE! It is like Platform 9 3/4 at this point. Muggles don’t even know it’s there. You made it! You found the aisle! And no matter WHAT hose or nozzle or bucket or even teacup you decide to begin with, you will deliver water to your garden. It will begin to grow a lot lusher than if you were giving it that powdered water from those dusty worksheets.
YOU HAVE ARRIVED! Pick a container. Use your intuition. You know what looks good to you. It might not be the “perfect fit” and you might not use it till you retire, but if it is a container, it WILL DELIVER WATER. That is what containers do. If it is a way to present messages in the language to your students, it will deliver the one ingredient needed for acquisition to happen – comprehensible input.
Even if you only water your garden here and there at the beginning of your garden-watering adventure, it is going to help your plants. Even if you decide later to get a different watering can, or to trade out your sprinkler hose for drip tape, your plants are still getting water through it all.
Congratulations on finding Aisle 9 3/4. There are a lot of products to choose from. It’s all good. You can’t really go “wrong”. Take a deep breath. Use your intuition. And know that the garden club will keep debating, but at the end of the day they will go home, and they will turn on a spigot, and water will get delivered from Place A to Place B. And you will do the same, in your garden. And all our plants will be better-off because we are watering them, using the tools that we intuit work best for us.