With parents, or anyone really, the best argument for comprehension-based teaching is to let them experience the process. So less talking about our practices and more demonstration is always good. Plus we only have 10 minutes so you can’t be long-winded!
This year for Parents’ Night I first told the parents this:
My name is Tina Hargaden and I am a big old nerd about language acquisition. You guys know all about language acquisition – your children all acquired their first language from you, in most cases. So in this class we are going to approach language acquisition the natural way, the way your children have already acquired their L1. We are going to put the horse (understanding the language and using it in a real way) before the horse (grammar) and not the other way around, which is how most of us were taught.
I want to show you how I teach your kids, a glimpse into the classroom. We are going to work together to use our imaginations to create an image right here on the carpet. I need an artist to draw the object as we discover facts about it. (Adults are so much less apt to volunteer for this, but I did get a kindly soul to help me out in every class!)
This worked well and then at the very end of class I told them that there is no homework, that kids have enough to do for other classes, that their grade is based on the communication that happens in class, and that for them at this beginning level, the communication is mostly listening and demonstrating comprehension.
Pics or it didn’t happen…here are the parents’ images: a tiny white dog, a small green cap, a large happy blue hat, and a small red guitar.
Velcro for the Brain?
Emergent Language Just Feels Stickier to Me
These videos are actually from September 15, as I was out of the building today for family reasons. This video begins with our reviewing the artists’ work from the image creation process the previous day, and this video is the continuation of the writing.
The image was a machete named Señora Claws, who was sad because everyone thought she was bad due to her being an enormous knife and all, but in reality she was a very nice machete. It got even cuter because turns out she was a Christmas machete, not just a normal machete.
When we move into the writing, at about 3:45 of the first video, you will hear us talking about a classroom management strategy I use when writing in front of the class. (I have been calling this “Write and Discuss” like “Read and Discuss” and “Look and Discuss” because we are basically having a conversation as a group and writing the details that the kids give me about the previous day’s work.) You will hear me remind them that they do not NEED to write to acquire the language, but that they do, of course, need to pay attention and be engaged. So therefore, if they cannot do that while simply watching me write, I will have them get clipboards and paper and pencils and copy as I write. Very few kids find this an exciting option (though I do have a few who like to copy and do so as I write) so therefore the class’ motivation to attend to the input is heightened.
Working with no pre-determined target language does not mean that targets do not come up. Of course, new language will be needed. But I am finding that kids comprehend and retain the language that emerges rapidly. My gut feeling is that they comprehend the emerged languages quicker and more easily because they emerged in a moment that is tied to emotion and were truly needed for communicating ideas in a real moment.
Emergent language that you will her in this class is todas las personas and todo el mundo, Navidad, cuento, and hay. In big Tina news, I have given UP circling hay! I figure it is going to be in every story, all year, and it will be natural to comprehend it in the context of saying what there is in a story. So this is the first time they have seen hay but it seemed to present no problems.
Here are two videos of French 1 doing a Write and Discuss of a One Word Image from the previous class. At the beginning of Part One you will hear me telling the class about the classroom management strategy of “forcing” them to pay attention if they cannot attend to the input, and giving kids the option of taking out their own materials and writing if they wish. You might notice that the Gender Equality Initiative from the 25% of the class that identifies as male has succeeded and we have two Professeurs 2, one boy and one girl. These kids are so engaged that the Professeurs 2 are EXTREMELY important for them. In Part Two (the new part starts at 1:15), we are working with the text we just wrote. First I read the text to them, then we chorally translate using a Reader Leader (me for now as I am still modeling it for the eventual kid who will take the job), then we do a little work with a student actor.
Words that have emerged are: aubergine, cochon, corps, fluorescent (which I am recycling from a previous story), déprimée, géante, tandis que (which I put in there knowing that this was brand-new and I waited till a kid asked what it meant, so that I could praise them for asking for clarification and reinforce that expectation.) Grammar points that came up were the fact that I needed to have a city after the preposition à, some words for punctuation, and (when working with the actor), the difference between applaudissez-le and applaudissez-la.
Here is some writing done yesterday in another Spanish 1 class, my seventh period, about a taco-caballo: medio taco y medio caballo. See the amazing taco-caballo below.
Who says that Comprehensible Input and grammar cannot coexist peacefully? While we write up the One Word Images from yesterday, and then read them using Ben Slavic’s Reading Options, there is plenty of time to talk about grammar, while doing Choral Reading. Though it is not strictly CI, but rather conscious thinking and learning ABOUT the language, you can see in the writing below that there are many opportunities, even when writing in front of the class, to grab language elements that might lend themselves to a quick discussion of syntactical, morphological, or lexical elements of the language.
In this series of videos, from French 1, a seventh-grade class, you can see what I sometimes call “Write and Discuss”, a process in which I draw the retell out of the class by asking questions and guiding the writing. First we review the calendar, which is usually quite interesting to beginners at the start of the year and provides confidence as it is very transparent and familiar input, then we review the artists’ work, then we write up the story as a class. The story is attached below as it is somewhat hard to read on the video.
In the example below, sur M. Canadian Bacon, dont le sobriquet est Candy, from my second-year French class, an eighth-grade class, we discussed lui and how it can refer to a him or her, à cause de versus parce que, and the difference between s’appelle and l’appellent. The One Word Image from which this story and class-crested reading was built is below. He is très mignon, au moins à mon avis!
It’s amazing how much training students need to be able to participate respectfully in the class community. Sometimes kids are “just joking around” and disrespecting each other, and they have to be reminded that what is OK amongst friends outside the classroom is not OK to bring into class.
My eighth grade French class was reviewing the calendar when a student suggested the “cute” answer that instead of Friday (which it was), today was Monday (Oh no oh no oh me oh my!) Whereas I make a big deal of hating Mondays, I was nonetheless happy to see the creativity of this student in suggesting a cute answer. However, his classmates were not as willing to roll with his creativity. Some even went as far as to call him out with some funny yet insulting language. It was time for a class intervention in L1. Speaking in English is, to me, like putting savings away. You can’t put your WHOLE paycheck in savings, but if you put aside a little, especially if you do that early in your career, over time it will grow and bear fruit. I see L1 in the language classroom the same way. More L1 use in the early months pays off with better-trained kids who are ready to be creative as a group.
Building group creativity is not for the faint of heart. Facilitating true human connection, community, and creativity, especially in the upper grades, especially in today’s schools, is a tall order. Doing it without ever using L1 just might be too much. Give a little to get a lot. It’s like saving for a rainy day.
In this French 2 class, we reviewed the calendar, then worked on a One Word Image of a teeny-tiny rainbow colored pig who is magic, but is sad because he only speaks English and does not speak Pig. You will see me using L1 to discipline the class as well as to praise them for letting me know if I am not being clear. Both uses of L1 are setting the foundations for important work this year – being a respectful community and making sure that Hargaden is clear when she speaks French.
In this Spanish 1 class, the OWI illustrates the important concept that Ben Slavic was so into this summer in all his workshops – the teacher needs to LIKE what she is talking about. I LOVE THIS TINY EWOK! He is small even for an Ewok! So cute! I am discovering that if you can get your kids to give you things to talk about that you genuinely love, the period will come to an end far quicker than you want it to.
This was day three of class and our CI ship has now officially left the harbor and is chugging merrily into the Sea of Imagination and Art.
I originally thought that I would do a One Word Image (Thanks to Ben Slavic, I have had a lot of coaching and practice on this powerful strategy he invented) with just my second-year French class who had CI all last year with me. I didn’t think the others were ready. I had loosely planned in my mind to continue a sort of “Extended Class Discussion” with the other classes, like I did yesterday (and recorded in sixth period), because I was not sure that the others were ready to take the leap. But it was so much fun in French 2 that I could not resist taking the other classes’ ships out of the harbor as well. And you know what? I thought it was lots of fun and totally worth the trip. In French 2, we created a tiny béret, in French 1, a big hot pink nose, and in my three Spanish classes, a giant rainbow-colored spork, a very large pair of rainbow-colored glasses, and a huge purple burrito.
Over the summer, watching Ben and working with so many OWIs in so many different contexts, I came to understand the sense of physicality that needs to accompany a One Word Image. As the teacher, my job is to channel imagination into the physical realm. The first step in getting imaginations to fire can be telling the class in English (our L1) that we are going to create something with our imaginations, and show them the physical space that the object will occupy. Then, once the object is placed there, I committed to it, looking at it with admiration, astonishment, stepping around it, talking and pointing at it as if I could see it in front of me. I was trying to bring this object, that was created by the community, INTO the community’s space.