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Racism, Equity, Inclusion, Invitation, Representation, and Leadership

Recently I had a long exchange of messages with a concerned party about the Teacher Leader scholarships that we are offering for Summer Institutes. This person, who has a long track record of commitment to racial justice and anti-racist education and social action, and whose work I personally admire, expressed concern that an unintended consequence of the scholarship was to perpetuate a common, yet misguided and harmful practice among white people hoping to grow in their ability to be allies in the fight to dismantle systemic racism.

It is all too common for whites to ask or expect people of color to educate us about race, racism, white privilege, or any other topics we desire to learn about. This is, obviously, a very misguided and harmful practice, and it is indicative of the depth of the inherited racism that white people, even well-meaning ones, perpetuate. It, to me, indicates that the white person, regardless of their good intentions, is still assuming that they have the right to assume a stance of “power over”, of assuming that white people can simply extract labor and information from people of color, just by virtue of wanting to learn.

This exchange shook me deeply, and in the past two days, I have undertaken a lot of reflection and discussion. This was all happening against the tragic backdrop of the brutal murder of yet another Black American, George Floyd, and the widespread anguish, demonstrations, vigils, actions, and public displays of anger boiling over in the fiery streets of Minneapolis and across the nation and world.

Part of that reflection has been the difference between my life as an individual and my role as the leader of an organization.

As an individual, I have long been committed to anti-racist work. As a young girl, I attended an all-white private school and had very few personal interactions with anyone whose skin was not pretty much the same shade as mine, and so when race slowly dawned on me, it was an abstract concept. Fiction helped. Fiction has been shown to increase our empathy. Reading nonfiction and learning history helped. But since the history lessons at my all-white school transmitted a very, very white-centric, racist narrative, that part was slow going. There were not a lot of ways that I knew of to learn from other people.

My world, and the world for many kids of my generation (I was born in 1976) and in my social milieu (I was born in Macon, GA), was not designed for curious white girls to have many opportunities to interact with people who weren’t white, or to even have many opportunities to formally explore racism, or even to learn a non-white-supremacist version of history or explanations for current events. Those around me did not seem to share my perspective. I learned about reparations. I learned about affirmative action. These seemed like good ideas to me, and still do. But those around me, almost monolithically, vehemently opposed such ideas. I grew up feeling like an outsider in many ways, and my dawning , growing realization that racism is pervasive, that our entire society was built on a foundation of theft, murder, slavery, torture, and forced, exploited labor was a source of personal pain and wonderment, and loneliness. Deep loneliness.

My personal life has been a journey of climbing out of this social prison cell – in no way comparable to an actual prison cell, in which a disproportionate number of people of color, and especially Black Americans, are now confined due to the deep, pervasive systemic racism upon which our prison-industrial complex is built.

In no way will I ever congratulate myself for a “good job” or “getting there” or “being a good white person” because no matter what, I know I will never eradicate the nasty, seething, ugly programming that I picked up like breathing in air, from the shameful and horrific legacy that my fellow white supremacists laid down, of unspeakable suffering and loss for non-Europeans, and of unwarranted privilege and power for those who descended from European ancestry, rich and poor alike.

I have so far to go. I would dare say that all whites have so far to go. I would even dare say that we probably will never “get there.” The best we can do is DO NO HARM. The best we can do is STEP ASIDE. The best we can do is MAKE SPACE. And the space we can make would seem to be in direct proportion to the amount of power and influence we have to share.

Thus, for those white people who have more influence and more power, such as those who lead schools, departments, classrooms, conferences, Facebook groups, state organizations, national organizations…and cities, counties, school boards, nations…for whites like that, the work is especially urgent.

So, this work, for many of us whites, is taking on a new level of urgency in these times, as we see the effects of racism writ large in the death toll from the COVID-19 crisis, in the state-sanctioned brutality and murder and the deep suffering and pain it causes, and in the widening economic gaps that disproportionately affect communities of color.

Let us not forget that these communities began our neoliberal rush to enrich the super-wealthy at everyone else’s expense ALREADY way, way behind the starting line due to centuries of theft of land and life and labor, disenfranchisement, terrorism, and the policies that made these practices not just legal but part of the very fabric of the economy.

And in this ever more urgent work, those of us who hold power, influence, and economic resources must make a swift, decisive, and deeply-engineered course correction. We must step aside, even in our own organizations, and even in our own life’s work, to make space, to bring on new leaders, to build stronger teams. Lip service is not enough.

Pretty words are not enough. Surface-level changes are not enough. The deep, pervasive, life-threatening violence that whites have collectively visited upon our fellow human beings was not built on lip service, words, and surface-level policies. It is deep, it is the verey water we swim in, the very food we eat, the very land we walk on, the very air we breathe. It was built into us when the sperm and egg that made us met, and it has been replicated in every division since. I just replicated billions of cells infected by racism as I typed that last paragraph. You, white reader, replicated billions of your own as you read it. And you, dear reader of color, I would suspect that you know, tragically, and at great cost to you and your loved ones, how whites are replicating, replicating racism with every thought, every cell, every innocent-looking baby. I cannot know if that is how it feels. I can only imagine. It’s probably worse than I imagine, and that is why it is so urgent.

The reason for the scholarship program is to start a major course correction for the company I began, blithely, and without much thought to racial justice, in 2011. Perhaps there are better ways to do this course correction. I’m sure there are. If you have ideas, please share them. I’m all ears. In fact, the seed of this scholarship was planted by a commenter of color who, last year, made a comment on a post we sent out about the Institutes, saying that the price made it obvious that they were intended to exclude, not INCLUDE. I did not do a course correction then. It took me a little bit to internalize it.

My hope is to grow the company on the contributions and power of people of color, to construct a pathway for those who are interested in the work we are doing, and whose perspectives will help us to grow into, as Bernie Sanders says, a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition of empowered educators who are developing resources and trainings and leadership that is actively anti-racist.

For many scholarship recipients, attending Summer Institutes will be all they wish to do. That’s great! They will leave with resources, knowledge, and information. They will not be asked to participate “as a person of color” or to educate others about race. I am fiercely committed to making the experience about their learning and growth, NOT about the learning and growth of white participants. The scholarships are being awarded with no strings attached, to all who apply.

Why aren’t they free? I thought about making them free. But I chose to make then 75% off instead, because when people pay something, it creates a different dynamic. At least that’s how I see it. Maybe that’s my white perspective talking. If that’s how it seems to you, I would appreciate your sharing your perspective on that.

The proceeds of the scholarship tuition will fund the ability to bring on more collaborators of color to our team. We will be able to pay people to write texts, develop curriculum materials, offer professional development, and weigh in, in a substantive way, to the direction we navigate in this major course correction.It is my sincere desire to produce actively anti-racist materials, texts, and training opportunities, and to build a high-functioning leadership team that is a lot less white-centric than the one I have built so far.

So, yes, I suppose you could say that I am asking my colleagues and friends of color to help me. And maybe you see this differently, but I see that when an ORGANIZATION needs to make a SWIFT and SUBSTANTIVE course correction, by hiring, training, and collaborating with colleague of color, that is a different situation from Teacher Tina or Teacher Sally expecting others to do the work for them. This is Literacy Education Services, LLC, DBA CI Liftoff and DBA The World Language Proficiency Project, inviting leaders of color to do the work WITH us. To take on roles that only they can fill.

After two intense days of self-examination against a background of intense national anguish and pain, in an already-intense time of crisis and pain, this. is my thinking, as an individual person, as a businesswoman, and as an educator. I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts. Thank you for reading this far. Please leave a comment if you have thoughts to share.

Hang in There, Everybody! Part Four

I’m writing to you from my hospital bed.

I’m OK, but things have been better, let’s say.

I just had to write because yesterday, something happened that made me think of how important we teachers are, for everyone’s happiness, at the most vulnerable, scared, embarrassed, hurt moments, the messiest moments, the biggest transitions, literally life and death, how important we teachers are in how we help to raise up our future healthcare workers today (who are sitting in your classrooms right now).  I have been thinking, especially, how we show the difference that human kindness can make in an otherwise ruthlessly-efficient and impersonal environment like a school or a hospital.

So, yesterday, I was about to be put under for an endoscopy and as I was waiting for the anesthesiologist to arrive, I heard the two techs debating vigorously about Minecraft.

I was about to be shepherded through the fearsome waters of unconsciousness by two “kids” who knew enough about Minecraft to engage in a rousing debate about it.  I suddenly felt like I was about to be operated on by a seventh grader.

Which, if you have ever taught seventh grade, was sort of a, uh, sobering thought.  (Especially if you ever taught my seventh graders!)

Which they could have been when I began my career teaching, if they were particularly hard-working.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says Blanche DuBois at the end of the play A Streetcar Named Desire, as she is being taken to the hospital.

I’m actually IN the hospital now, and I assure you that, ultimately, that is true for us all.  Ultimately, despite the ministrations of friends and family, if we avail ourselves of medical treatment, which we will increasingly do , the older we get, we will come to depend on the kindnesses of many strangers in scrubs.

And in this is a lesson for us teachers, to hang in there for the long haul, for everyone‘s sake.  To hang in there and teach those kids who will one day grow up to wear scrubs and be there for others in their darkest hours, with kindness and love.  With humanity and compassion and kindness and taking-a-moment within a huge, impersonal, florescent-lit, bar-coded, regimented system such as a hospital is.

We need to teach them to be human within systems that can feel overwhelming.  When they walk into our classes, we can show them that within a huge system such as School, there can be those people and places that build you up, take a moment for you, and treat you like a human, because of the person you are working with.  Teachers, that person, in school, tends to be us.  We are the person who sets the tone of the interaction.  We are the person who makes it more human within an impersonal system or less-so.

I came to the hospital in an ambulance, my first ride ever in an ambulance, when, on Saturday night, I was unable to stand up without falling down and fainting.  There were other symptoms, too, but they are a little gross to get into.  I’ll just let it suffice to say that I was moaning to my husband from the bathroom floor, alternatively, that I was going to die, or that I wished I had already done so.

When the EMT showed me an IV drip full of water, which I had not been able to keep down for two days, despite intense thirst, I cried.  Not because I am deathly afraid of needles (on a normal day, I am) but because I was so grateful that they were going to give me fluid.

When we arrived at the hospital, and four arms tattooed with full arm sleeves (it’s Portland through and through here at the hospital, down to the room-service lattes and espresso) were pumping all kinds of things into my already-chilled body, and I was shivering from head to toe, in a deep way I never knew was possible, a man brought me what I would come to know as “fresh warm blankets” and he made a little headcovering with them, and I cried again, grateful that someone noticed how convulsed with shivering I was.

When I was moved to my room upstairs, the transport technician took a selfie with me in the mirrored ceiling of the elevator, cause I was so tickled that I could see myself full-length in the bed.

A phlebotomist just came to draw blood, and she told me, “Put this pillow over your head because the overhead lights are bright,” and then she so gently stroked my arm to raise up a vein.

So many times, it’s been a technician, not a doctor or nurse, who has been there for me in those small moments of just raw human need.

Despite the fact that my dear husband is here with me, to the point that the nurses have all commented on his dedication to Team Tina, he is not the face that is the face of kindness in those little moments of fear, or hurt, or loneliness.  It’s been technicians with kind hearts who have made each step of this ordeal a little more human, and a little more tolerable.

Within the monstrous, huge hospital I am in, they shine.

Just like we do.  We are working in a monstrous, huge system.  It pokes, prods, weighs, measures, draws blood, knocks us unconscious.  All the things that a hospital does (just metaphorically, of course).

And some teachers just go with the flow, they measure, report the results, continue on.

And some, look in your face, see you are shivering, see your teeth chattering, and wrap a fresh warm blanket around your head.

Or they just explain why they are doing what they are doing.

Or they just say “I know it hurts, and I wish I could make it go away, but we have to do it.”

Which makes it better too.

Know, teachers, we are showing our very own future scrubs-wearing angels how to be human in a system that was not built for humans.  And please, hang in there.

I will do the same.

Hang in There, Everybody! Part Three

Keep hanging in there.  

I know it’s hard to be a teacher.

It’s especially hard to be one of “those teachers.”

Which, you might just well BE one of “those” teachers.

I know I am.

The kind that get onto their “latest obsession” and then spend days and days and weeks and weeks soaking up whatever they can find, reworking everything, or at least dreaming about it.  Planning for next year.  When things will be different.  Better.  

Once, in about 2009, I found “Power Teaching.”  Now it is called “Whole-Brain Teaching.”  I fell deep into it, and reorganized my whole Social Studies classroom around it, and obsessively watched videos and read blog posts and even drove from Nevada to California to attend a conference about it.  

Yeah, I’m “that kind of teacher.”

When I found CI in 2004, I cleaned out the shelf where Krashen’s books were in the library at Portland State University, and watched every video I could (there weren’t many back then), and immediately changed everything about my college courses, or as much as I could, with the section head breathing down my neck and the common assessments and constant evaluation and scrutiny we were under.

That kind.

That’s the kind of teacher you are too, I wager.  You’re the kind that is on Facebook on the weekend, reading teacher posts instead of looking at hilarious memes and funny cat videos.  

I bet you are “that kind of teacher” too.  

The kind that sort of believe, deep down somewhere, that there is some system, or method, or tool, or strategy that will reach into our school systems and grab us all by the scruff of the neck and shake us out of the torpor that oozes from the walls of classrooms and the halls of schools all across this planet.

The kinds who dream of an education that builds everyone up, makes everyone proud, makes people want to be in our classrooms.

An education that makes even US, the teachers, want to BE in our classrooms.  

An education that makes us fired up about our calling, our true calling.

Our true calling isn’t about languages.

Our true calling is about the soul.

Somehow, we were all called to take care of the soul of the next grownups to take over this planet.

Languages were just the shiny object that got us to wake up to our calling.  

We are not teaching languages, not really.  We are really teaching people.

And you are one of “those teachers.”  The kind that see that.  The kind that still, after all the indignities and all the disrespect and all the stress, and the trauma, and the name-calling, and the harsh reality, the kind that is still, still growing, still learning, looking, searching for a way to bring joy and connection and REALNESS to your classroom and your students’ lives and, thereby, to the future of our poor, beleagured, planet that is literally burning up in front of our eyes.

I know it’s not easy.

I know it takes a toll on your social life, your family life, your “me time.”

I know it’s a sacrifice.  An investment of your already-limited resources.  Your time, your energy, your attention, your finances.

I know what it is to be at your daughter’s swim lesson, and instead of cheering her on, or snapping pictures, to be reading a book or blog about your latest teaching obsession.

I know what it is to get super fired-up about a new idea or approach and to be shot down by colleagues and bosses who do not seem to even care.  I know what it is to have to fit your passion, and your creativity, and your excitement, and your vision, and your differentness, into the system.

And know that the system isn’t working for the people in it.

It’s frustrating.

It drives teachers, good teachers, the BEST ones, out of the profession.

It haunts us.

It makes our jobs many, many times harder.  It makes our innovation and passion COST us more.

Not only do we have to learn to teach, but then we all have to tinker with what we have learned, and chip away at it and modify it, and diminish it, to fit on the Procrustean bed of “fitting into the scope and sequence/common assessments/ textbook chapter/PBIS/Response to Intervention/Common Core/whatever our bosses, in their infinite wisdom are on about this year, or this semester, or this month.”

It’s hard.

And yet you come back to this group, back to other teacher groups.  And you still dream, still tinker, still do whatever you can, to elevate your teaching.

Because you’re that kind of teacher.

I’m sorry it’s so hard.  I’m sorry about the lost sleep.  I’m sorry the system doesn’t generally work for people, and people have to work for the system.   

But still, you persist.  You go on.  

Thank you.

Thank you for being That Kind of Teacher.

Hang in there.  Take it easy on yourself.  

Things are changing.

It’s slow, imperceptible, piecemeal, and haphazard.  But things ARE changing.

My hero is Lucy Calkins.   I have followed her work in literacy education for almost 20 years.  

She has transformed the landscape.  An army of dedicated literacy teachers, across the nation, across the planet, spread and reinforce her vision, equipped with her infectious passion, her fiery words, and with practical materials to implement it, and with evidence of its effectiveness, and with a common set of tools and ways to describe their practice.

That did not happen overnight.  But it was teachers like us, you and me, “those teachers,” who have made Lucy’s vision the “new normal” in school after school, district after district.  

It will happen.  And here we are, DOING THE WORK.

Thank you, hang in there, play the long game with me.

You are worth it.  Your career is worth it.  And, most of all, our students are worth it.

Mil gracias.  Merci mille fois.  

Je vous adore.  Continuons à lutter.  Continuons à jouer.

Continuons à aimer et a songer et à rêver et à travailler, à apprendre, à chercher.

Hang in There, Everybody! Part Two

Let’s all hang in there, even though nothing seems to be moving and we seem like we are stuck in endless dark and the sun will never come back, and we will always wake up in the dark, walk the dog in the dark, drive home in the dark.

We can’t tell by looking from one day to another, but the days are getting longer. 

Yesterday, in Portland, night was 11 hours and 22 minutes long.  TODAY, it’s 11 hours and 21 minutes long.

One minute.   FOR REAL?  One measly little MINUTE?  I lived a WHOLE DAY and all I got to show for it was ONE MORE MINUTE OF SUN?

We can’t tell from looking at it, but the Earth is round.

The little part we can see looks flat, though.

We can’t tell from what kids can do in January, what language is growing in their heads.  

But if we just keep at it, keep 


instead of teaching ABOUT the language,

then, just like January is imperceptibly shifting towards June, 

THE STUDENTS TOO will shift towards June.

Might not be THIS June.

Might be NEXT June.

Or next October.

Or next February.

But they WILL shift.

They aren’t all the Earth, though.  They’re not all the same planet.

They won’t all shift at the same rate.

Some are little Mercuries, and they go fast, learn fast, want speed, want to RUN into the language, and they will shift quick, cause they take the input you give them each day, and they repeat it to themselves, and they actually study those notes they insist on taking in your nice deskless classroom and they go go go in the language.

Some are Neptunes, slowly wending their way in the language, dreamily tuning in and tuning out in class, perhaps preoccupied by heavy things, maybe by things so heavy that it would break your heart to know them.

Maybe, if you let them be, and let them unfold, and build a supportive place where a kid on a timeline like that can feel successful and good and happy and loved and included and where they can see that they ARE growing, then they will slowly turn, not only toward the language, but toward YOU.  And they will unwrap the mystery of what it is that preoccupies them at such a young age.  

Maybe you will earn their trust.

Maybe you will start earning the trust of kids that don’t trust many grown-ups in the school, because you are the one who lets them be.

You are the one who lets them unfold at their rate.

And showed them that they were, in fact, making progress.

And celebrated that.

I urge you to go easy on yourself, and go easy on your students, and know that it’s HARD to trust natural processes, EVEN WHEN THEY ARE SCIENTIFICALLY-MEASURED AND PROVEN.

It’s hard to TRUST and KNOW and FEEL that January is moving and growing into summer.  


It’s hard to trust and know and FEEL like the Earth is round.

I mean, we don’t live on the space station.

Looks pretty flat to me from here.

So, if it’s hard to trust that these basic facts of science are true, on a day-to-day, here-and-now basis, then think how much harder it is to trust that this kid is making progress, and that one is too, and so is this other one, when there is no road map for that kid, and no one has proven that little Johnny in the third row will EVER not say “me llamo es.”

But, we WILL get to June.

Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

One day, that day will come, like it does every year, when we go to the store on the way home, and we realize, walking the cart out to the parking lot afterwards, that it is STILL LIGHT IN THE SKY and we ran an errand after school, IN THE DAYLIGHT.  We will realize then, that all those minutes here and there added up, day after day, when night seemed to have taken over for good.

We WILL get to that day, and then we WILL get to June, which, here in Portland, it feels like all you see is sun, sun sun, cause we are so far north.

We WILL get there.

And little Johnny WILL make progress.

As long as you keep giving him the language.

Just turn on the language, and keep shining it, and hang in there.

Hang in There, Everybody! Part One

Let’s all just HANG IN THERE. 

It’s January freaking fifteenth.

It’s been dark FOREVER.

I’ve been cold for THREE DAYS.

Like, just cold, constantly.

I went to acupuncture today and told her, “Just don’t make me take any of my clothes off.”  

Like, ANY of them.  Not even my SCARF.

They said we would have lots of snow today, but what we got instead was just damp, damp, damp, damp cold.  

I don’t like Valentine’s Day that much, and other than that, what is there to look forward to in the next couple of months?

More rain?

90 seconds more of light each day?

It’s going to be a couple weeks yet before we start to notice that the long winter nights are budging at all.

Amy Mecher, HOW DO YOU DO IT, up there in Alaska?

I officially tendered my resignation to Portland Public Schools today.

My mixed feelings are over.  I cried about it enough, last January, and February, and March, and April, and then it finally stopped in summer cause I got so busy with everything else that I guess I kind of forgot to keep grieving.  And I kind of forgot to be excited.  And I just kind of forgot to do ANYTHING except work and write and work and write.

Some people have asked me, “If you quit teaching, then what does that say about your curriculum, or your training, or your ideas?”

“If you couldn’t hang in there, who can?”

Some people have said, “If you stop teaching, how will you stay relevant?  How will you keep your edge?  How will you maintain your street cred?”  

Here’s the truth.  Here’s why I tendered my resignation.




I will always love it.

I was very, very happy teaching.

I had it down to such a science, and I had it so efficient, that I was literally prepping like ten minutes a day, and grading like an hour a month.

And yet my students were learning a lot.

They could read, write, understand, speak when they took a notion to it (or when we played speaking games in class).

I look at videos of myself in the classroom and what stands out is PURE JOY.

I ADORE the classroom.

I adore making a world out of nothing but desks, tape, paper, and a rinky-dink whiteboard made out of some white stuff screwed onto what looks to have been an old chalkboard.

I love that kind of stuff.

But I could not keep my big mouth shut, I guess.  I was so happy with what I had discovered, and learned, and developed, and I just could not help it.  I posted videos, I started a blog.  I wrote pages and pages.  I killed two computers;  I’m on my third computer since 2016.  or maybe fourth.  I don’t remember. 

It was like I HAD to share.  Because I wanted to help others see what I saw, and be happier too.  And the more I talked and wrote and posted videos about teaching, the busier I got, and the busier I got, the more I learned, from working with teachers in more and more places, getting busier and busier.

And the more I learned about what was plaguing them, what was hard for them, what burning questions they had, the more I learned, the more I thought, and tinkered, and worked, and wrote, and talked, and…

Somehow the outside work just got bigger and bigger.

It began to pull me away from my students more and more.

I was not really being the teacher I wanted to be.  The teacher I had always been.  

I tried to keep up with both, the outside work and the teaching, but the outside work demands so much of you, and teaching demands so much of you, and there is, at the end of the day, only so much of you to go around, and you get tired of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

But it’s not Peter.

And it’s not Paul.

It’s Tina robbing Tina.

So, something had to give.  And all along, I knew it would be my beloved classroom.

My dear students.  My colorful book boxes, and my beautiful classroom library, and my stickers, my boxes and boxes of this and that, stowed away Just in Case.

Just in case Michaels ever goes out of freakin business, I guess.

I don’t have too many teacher things left now.

I have the choicest teacher books, on the bookshelf I just built in my office.  The rest, I gave away.

I have about six student readers, to use as example Book Talks in workshops and Summer Institutes.  The rest, I gave away.

I have a big, overstuffed folder full of notes and cards and letters and drawings that I have never read, that I was saving for a day that I would want to leave the profession, cause that’s what Jeff told us in grad school, “Save those cards and stuff, cause one day you will come to a point where you want to leave the profession, and you will need to look at them and keep your heart in it.”

But, the thing is, I never once, ever, wanted to leave the profession.

I never even wanted to leave the classroom.

I just wanted to get into other people’s classrooms so bad that I had to step out of mine.  Maybe it’s just for a spell.  Hard to tell.  Maybe I will spend the rest of my days working with other people’s students.  That’s fun, too.  And it leaves me time to work on materials, and time to work on me, too.

Cause ALL teachers give and give, and give some more.

It’s like we should all have to take a required training called “How to Give to Yourself AND to Others, Too.”  Cause we FORGET.

All of us give and give.  And then there are the ones who sort of get Picked Up and Used.  Or at least that’s how it feels to me.  Like I got picked up and used, somehow, for some Muse somewhere to pour books of words through, to pour facebook posts, blog posts, video posts, teacher manuals, stories, workshop rants, through.

And so on my Almost One Year Anniversary of Leaving My Happy Place Behind (at least for a spell), I say to you:


It’s worth it to me, and not just in that “Giving to Others” way.

It’s worth it in the “Paying Tina” way, too.

Cause I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE working with teachers.  I love Stepping Stones.  I love the lessons, the cycles, the phases, the writing foci, the assessments, the rubrics, continua, the whole shebang. 

Sometimes I look at that book and it’s like it did not even come out of my brain.  I look at it in awe, and think, “Wow, WHERE did that come from?”

And I know that it will take me years and years to figure out how to unpack and unwrap and regift this huge body of work to other teachers.  

And I also know that it is so fun, so satisfying, and so rewarding to be unwrapping the goodies that sort of got dumped in my brain by some Santa Claus that brings early mornings and worn-out keyboards instead of candy and toys.

Except there is no candy, no toy, no CLASSROOM that is more of a gift in my life than the gift of having these materials and this vision to share with you guys.

HANG IN THERE everyone.  

And that goes double for you, Tina.  Yeah, talking to you, Self.

Albert Fernández’ Story

World Language Thought Leaders Share Their Story

Albert Fernández’ story speaks to the natural tendency of teachers to replicate the same methods that our own teachers used, especially when we are in “survival mode”, and just getting our teaching legs under us.


Albert’s blog, Señor Fernie, shares his thoughts on CI teaching from a stance of “I’m trying this all out and sharing how it’s going for better and for worse…and if I can do it, anyone can do it.”  On his blog, Albert also shares stories that he and his students have written, and you can download them here.

I recently chatted with Albert about his session on the Spanish Teacher Success Academy online conference.  You can access that conference FREE through March here.

Here’s the 30-minute video on Albert’s session “Moving Away from Grammar-Based Teaching”.

Comment Contest!

Contest - World Language Thought Leaders Share Their Story

Each story in this series will offer an opportunity to share your story too, and enter for a chance to win prizes that will help build our collective capacity as a teaching community.  My goal in sharing these stories is to help people see the commonalities in the struggles that we all go through at one point or another in our journeys.

If Albert’s story speaks to you, please leave a comment below that shares part of YOUR teacher story.  Two comments will be randomly selected to win one of two prizes:

30 minutes of phone guidance time with Albert OR a guest post on Albert’s blog, to share your experiences trying out CI methods.

If you want to see more of Albert, check out his session at the FREE online conference, Spanish Teachers Success Academy, which runs March 10 through 15, 2019.  Be sure to block out some time on your calendar so that you can watch during that time, because the sessions are only available for free during that window, and you don’t want to miss them!  You can get your free ticket here.  And you can download the free playbook here, which has information from all the presentations!  You can purchase lifetime access to the conference or binge-watch as much as you can from March 10 through 15 — your choice!

Albert was a guest on the We Teach Languages podcast in fall of 2018, giving advice for new language teachers.  You can listen to the interview here.

Now, on to Albert’s story.

¡Hola a todos! My name is Albert Fernandez.

My CI journey started way before I knew about “CI” as we know it now. I went to graduate school for an MAT in foreign language education and I was familiar with the idea of comprehensible input (language that is comprehensible to the students that is necessary for them to acquire language). But in the 10 years since I graduated, the term “CI” has evolved to mean something much more than just a term used by linguists to describe the kind of language that learners need in order to acquire language 

“CI” is now a movement. It’s become a catch-all term for the methods and techniques used by teachers who have decided that after years of starting novices out by teaching them about the language rather than giving them comprehensible input, maybe it’s time for a change. As I see it, the “CI Umbrella” covers all kinds of activities and methodologies that focus on allowing students to acquire language in as natural a way as possible. I have fully embraced this idea. 

But how did I get here? 

My first job out of grad school (and the job I currently have) is teaching 1st – 8th Grade Spanish (and now I also teach Kindergarten). I applied, interviewed, and was hired in a whirlwind (all of it happened within 2 days). The principal who hired me, once I got into my room and started setting up said, “OK. Have fun.”

And then I was on my own.  

I didn’t have resources from the previous teacher, no order of instruction, no unit plans or lesson plans, no partner teacher to work with, just a set of books originally published in 1987 (this was in 2010, btw) and a classroom. If I left my teaching job now, with almost 10 years of elementary and middle school teaching under my belt, and had this level of freedom, it would be a dream come true. But as a baby teacher, with only a slip of paper saying I was a “Master” of foreign language education, it was terrifying; it was paralyzing. I knew what I should do, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it.

Needless to say, that first year was tough. I fell back on all the things that I knew from going through 12 years of Spanish classes in my life. I didn’t do anything like what I learned about doing in my Master’s program. I was fully in survival mode: Get information, any information, about the language into the kids’ heads, test them on it, and repeat. As the years went by, grew in confidence and competence in classroom management and teaching (well…teaching grammar) and by my 3rd year of teaching, I was able to control a classroom. The kids and I were able to enjoy Spanish class and have fun learning

But I still had this voice in the back of my head telling me that I still wasn’t living up to the expectation I had of myself as a Spanish teacher. I wasn’t able to put into action all the strategies and methods I had learned about in grad school. I didn’t have a community of teachers to guide me through. (At the time I called myself a “Lone Wolf” because I thought it sounded cool; the term for it now is “Department of One.”) I was all alone in the school and struggling to live up to the high expectations I felt I was being held to by admin, the legacy of incredible professors, and my own knowledge that teaching grammar rules doesn’t really help students communicate in the TL There was a gap between my goal for my students (that they move up the proficiency levels) and my instruction (grammar, discrete vocabulary memorization, forced output). 

As I went through the first few years of my career teaching grammar rules and having kids memorize hundreds of vocabulary words a quarter, I felt this gap get wider and wider. I felt more and more like I was doing them a disservice. I felt like no matter how well I taught them to fill in blanks, they weren’t learning the skills they would need to actually communicate to someone who isn’t their Spanish teacher. 

I have to stop myself here for a moment to point out that there is no correct way to teach language. A criticism of the CI movement is that there is snobbery or elitism and that we look down on teachers who use more traditional methods. I get it, and from the outside, that’s how it might seem, especially with the sort of passionate rhetoric about how much better “CI” is than traditional methods.

But that’s not been my experience. I believe that at the end of the day, it’s our job to do what we feel is best for the students. Every teacher and every class is different and what works for one may not be the best approach for another. Regardless of where you are on the CI spectrum, whether it’s a fully grammar-based curriculum on one end or a Non-Targeted CI curriculum based on students’ interests on the other or anywhere in between, there is no wrong way to teach. There are just ways that are better for us as individuals.

The 2013-14 school year is when the world opened up for me. This was the year that I stumbled upon The Comprehensible Classroom, Sra. Spanglish (now PBLintheTL) and Musicuentos. These are the blogs of Martina Bex, Laura Sexton, and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell, respectively, and they opened my eyes to the world of “CI” as it is known now.

Suddenly, there was a whole world of ideas and approaches to teaching that had high efficacy and were based on the kinds of teaching methods I had learned about in graduate school Their blogs led me to TPRS and attending a TPRS workshop. This changed my career and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my entire life. Their blogs also led me to #langchat, a weekly (now bimonthly) twitter chat between language teachers to share ideas and advice about language teaching and to the CI Liftoff and iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching Facebook groups. And they inspired me to start my own blog sharing what I do in my classroom and my students’ work. This has only helped me with making more connections in the world of language teachers.

I encourage everyone I meet to start their own blog (I even wrote a blog post about it!) for reflection and connection with other teachers. Before the language teaching blogger community and before Langchat and Facebook, I was a lone wolf in a dark forest. No one in my school could understand that me doing a good job using outdated methods was not my idea of the best job I could be doing. But the world of CI teachers understood. They had gone through the same things as me! This community is filled with incredible teachers and content creators whose main goal is to help other teachers provide students with the skills to communicate effectively in a language that is not their own using the most modern research-based methods available. 

Albert Fernandez Quote.png

Without the CI movement and TPRS, I would not be where I am today. I am not sure I would even still be teaching. I definitely would not have started blogging or presenting at regional and national conferences. CI has given me a voice in shaping how languages are taught. Come and join us and be part of the conversation. Let your voice be heard, too.

Comment below to share your thoughts and your own story!

A Strong, Flexible, Infinitely Repeatable Daily Lesson Sequence that Helps Us Maintain Our Energy

Blog Graphics

In building acquired language competence, we really only need to do two things.
(1) Give them understandable messages.
(2) Make it interesting enough to pay attention to.
That’s it.

In building acquired language competence, we really only need to do two things.

(1) Give them understandable messages.

(2) Make it interesting enough to pay attention to.

That’s it.

There are a lot of ways to give them these messages. It’s not one size fits all.

We can tell stories, or create stories with the class.

We can do Card Talk and have a discussion of the class’s likes and dislikes, or their favorite and least favorite school subjects, or whatever else we ask them to sketch on their cards.

We can create characters using the One Word Image process, conduct Special Person Interviews, find fun Movie Talks, or do daily Small Talk about the calendar and weather.

We can teach them content like history and geography through Input Charts, bring them a series of pictures and do Picture Walks, and we can “angle” any of these activities to talk about content or to target a certain function of the verb.

And of course we can read.  We can do free-choice reading, shared reading, reading authentic resources, reading Scholastic magazines.  So much to read.

The list of strategies we can use to deliver those messages goes on and on.  It could very well be infinite.

So, there are lots of ways to create those messages.  However, what they all tend to have in common is that the teacher is leading a class activity, and providing the language for the class to engage in the activity, while “pitching” the language at a level that is a tiny bit challenging to understand, but not too challenging.

This can be an exhausting job, day after day!

That’s why I don’t do it much.

That is not to say that I do not give lots of input to my kids, on a daily basis, as much as I can.  I do.  Giving those understandable, interesting messages to my students is my number-one goal in class.  It means that I cannot be “on” all the time.

I am a 43-year-old woman.  I get tired.  I simply cannot spend all my time creating and leading class activities.  

I rely on a daily lesson sequence that begins with creating, but moves on to different modalities of teaching and learning after about 8 to 12 minutes of creating in the language together.

I call it the “daily dose of language” because it gives students a good dose of listening, reading, shared writing, and opportunities for interpersonal speaking and communication.

I really, really rely on this comfortable daily routine. It makes class lot less energy-consuming.

The school day is long, the school year is longer, and our careers, well, we want them to be long, so that we can impact as many kids as we can.

This daily sequence is a strong, flexible daily sequence of instruction and formative assessment that we can re-use every day, all year.

This sequence helps us to relax because every day we only spend about 8 to 12 minutes co-creating new content with our students’ ideas and input.  Sometimes the “create” phase is so fun that it goes longer, but this is average.

The amount of student input into the “create” phase varies, depending on the strategy we choose for that lesson, but the more student voice and personalization we can bring in as you create, the more engaging the lesson tends to be.

This sequence thus launches from a place of student voice and choice.  When we ground our instruction in students’ interests, engagement is higher than lessons that come fully-formed from the teacher’s mind.  But since the “create” phase is short, only 10 minutes or so, student voices do not overwhelm us.

We harness their ideas and creativity during this “create” phase and then lead them through a strong, reliable instructional sequence.  We can relax more and rely on this sequence to support us.

Reading Sets the Tone

I like to begin my classes, before the “create” phase, with reading time.  It helps us transition into class and usually has a calming effect on the students.  For me, the gold standard is free-choice reading.  I love seeing kids sprawled all over, with books they want to read.  I love helping kids who hate reading to find texts they can tolerate.  It feels like I am doing such powerful teaching during those first 10 minutes of class, but all I really have to do is sort of quietly and unobtrusively walk around and whisper to readers, perhaps bringing them different texts or reading with them if they are struggling with engagement.

Some of us prefer to do shared reading, either because we love sharing books with our students or we do not yet have a classroom library that supports free-choice reading.   Shared reading or even just reading aloud from one text in front of the whole class can be quite enjoyable too.

Reading is most enjoyable for me and my students when I hold them “lightly accountable” which is to say that I do not quiz them on the content of their books, or require them to read a certain number of books.  Instead, I grade them on their habits as readers during free-choice reading and their interpersonal communication skills during shared reading.


It’s now time to “create” something with the class, using whatever strategy appeals to us or meets our curricular goals, for 10-12 min.

Sometimes we need to work with certain language features, so we might “angle” the “create” activity to elicit certain words or language forms or functions.  For example, to work with vocabulary about chores, and the verb devoir/deber/must, or the function of expressing necessity or obligation.

We might do Calendar Talk and ask students what chores they have to do, and write them on the calendar, and talk about who else has to do those chores, and what our feelings are about different household tasks.  Any “create” activity can be “angled” in this way.

The beauty of using this sequence of instruction if we are working within a framework of a required curriculum is that we do not have to rely on the “create” portion to “fully teach” those things.  This first part of class simply sets us up for more work with the language that was used to express the students’ ideas in this first phase of the lesson.

So, we can cool it on wanting to repeat and repeat and explain everything all at once, and get kids to output certain things correctly.  We can relax, spend about 10 minutes creating some real-world communication that uses this vocabulary and language feature in context, as many times as feels natural to accomplish the task of communicating our feelings and obligations with chores or narrating a few stories from kids’ kindergarten days, or whatever we are communicating about that day.

Keeping my “create” to a shorter time frame made it more doable. I used to not do a lot of stories because I used to let them go on so long and they were exhausting ! But it is not too much to just get through 10-12 minutes of actively creating language with the kids. Then, we COAST through the rest of the lesson using familiar, powerful instructional strategies that basically manage themselves. Into these strategies, we can put new ideas and creativity each day, but we can rely on this sequence of instructional strategies to carry us through the bulk of every day’s lesson.

After we “Create” for 10-12 minutes, or maybe 15-20 if things are taking off and everyone is feeling good, we move on through Review, Write, Read, and Extend.

There is probably an infinite number of excellent activities that you could plug into each of these parts of the lesson, but I have found that for me there are just a few go-to strategies that really serve me well.

Oral Review

To review orally, you can simply display student artwork and use it as a visual aid to review.  I try to have our student artists capture the “create” part in artwork each day.  You can simply have the artist draw in a class notebook and put it under your projector and point and talk about it.  Sometimes I like to have my artists work on a big piece of chart paper, as is often the case with One Word Images.

For more information on student artists and One Word Images, see the Bite-Size Book of Student Artists and the Bite-Size Book of One Word Images.

You can also simply ask the class review questions.  You could also have them listen to a retelling of what the class created and sketch to demonstrate their understanding.  You can give them a Quick Quiz and have them write the answers to turn in at the end of class, or have them listen and retell in L1 (English for most of my students) for a quick formative assessment.  You can add on more quiz questions at the end of class as a closure activity, or you can retell additional information at the end of class and ask them to sketch or write more in L1.

Shared Writing

My go-to for shared writing is Write and Discuss.  Write and Discuss can be free-flowing or it can be used as a tool to model ever-increasing complexity of the texts we produce together during this activity.

For example, we can first write simple sentences, then compound sentences, then connected sentences, then paragraphs, then paragraphs with topic sentences, then paragraphs with conclusion sentences.

During the Shared Writing part of our lessons, in later years of language study, we can begin asking students to write more independently, first with partners or in groups, and on their own with scaffolds such as graphic organizers or mentor texts, or even decks of word cards that help them to remember useful words (e.g. connector words like “Therefore” or “Because of that”) that the class has used in Write and Discuss.

Through lots and lots of guided shared writing and scaffolded partner work, students finally internalize a strong sense of the way more complex discourse tends to go, and they will gradually begin to produce it on their own, with less and less scaffolding, until one day they can stand on their own as academic writers in their new language.  Maybe this does not happen in the time they spend with us, for it is a long process.

Especially for students whose L1 literacy is weak, building literacy in L2 will take a long time.  It takes a lot of modeling, and a lot of input, and at first the input needs to be simple, and highly-comprehensible, and far from the academic discourse that is the long-term goal.  Furthermore, it is painful to rush students to produce academic writing, and involves force and memorization and stress and, sometimes, tears.  But just because it is a long journey, there is no reason to not get started.  And shared writing with Write and Discuss is, in my experience, one of the most powerful ways to launch students on that trajectory towards being able to produce rich, complex academic discourse.

During this shared writing time, we can also have students work with us to write pages for the class yearbook or fill in Process Grids or Cooperative Paragraphs or Sentence Patterning Charts (Strategies from Project GLAD) or partner writing, or any other written processing of the day’s content.

Write and Discuss is my bread and butter during this phase, though.  It is where the magic happens, because YOU, the teacher, are their proficient guide, modeling how to compose in the language, in an interactive, student-centered way.

Shared Reading

When we finish the text, having written about three to six sentences together, I first read what we have written aloud to them in L2, with intonation, expression, and phrasing, so that they can hear it as a whole.  Then we switch into English and Conscious Learning Mode. I have them do Choral Translation and Discussion of the Grammar, then I ask them to share their noticings and questions.  Doing this daily creates a sense of comfort for those students who feel like they will explode with curiosity if they do not get to talk about what their conscious minds are noticing about their new language.  It also builds confidence in their ability to notice features of the language.  This confidence will help them tackle any future formal language study we might do, or with more traditional teachers later down the road.

After this, we usually move back into Language Acquisition Mode, unless we are doing some conscious Language Study using the PACE model.  If we are moving into a Language Study Day, we sort of bail here, and work with a prepared text that provides an input flood using the feature of the language that I set up the “create” portion to elicit.  We add our explanations of how the language “works” to our Class Editing Checklist, which students can use when they write and peer edit.

Most days, I switch back into L2 and do some quick Reading from the Back of the Room and maybe some very basic Readers Theatre with no props, the actors seated on stools, and heavy on having the actors repeat the inner thinking (which is thought aloud) and dialogue that I feed to them. Because I have permanent class jobs, and actors I can rely on, and because I make the job of actor fun and rewarding as I can, I usually find Readers Theatre to be quite relaxing and fun. There are tons of other reading options, but these four are my workhorses. To learn more, you can download a comic I made of some go-to reading options, several of which I learned from Ben Slavic.

Student Application and Assessment

The very basic option here is a Quick Quiz, oral or written. You can have them do a retell in English as they hear the day’s language again, either from the text you wrote during Write and Discuss or from your oral retelling of the day’s information, perhaps using the visual aid that the student artists created to scaffold comprehension. Written dictation is also a good option here.  You can read a post that contains information on Dictées here.

Quick Quizzes, English retells, and Dictées are easy to collect and grade.  It is nice to end with some closure and get some grades to enter, if that is something you have to do.  And these three activities are simple, authentic uses of the language, and true formative performance assessments of listening and reading comprehension.

You can also play games or do something more fun like Running Dictation.  There are so many options for extension activities.  Martina Bex is the queen of creative ideas to re-use language to give students more interaction with the day’s content and the language used to create it.  Just looking at her “Games” category, you will find 50 posts on language games to play!

If your admin wants to see a gradual release of responsibility, or an “I Do, We Do, You Do” model, you can have the students freewrite and use their Editing Checklist, which means that they would apply the day’s learning to their own independent work.  They can also play the Question and Answer Game,, which means that they would be using some of the day’s language when speaking to their partner to answer your whole-class questions.

Thank you for reading my blog!

I truly appreciate your time and your commitment to the profession.  I love reading your comments, so if you have thoughts or questions, please post them below.  I hope that if you try this lesson sequence, and have feedback, that you will leave it here for me.  Thank you and please take good care of yourself so you can take good care of the kids.

Assessment — It’s All About the Context!

I had a nice chat on FB Messenger last night about assessment with a colleague from CI Liftoff.  You can read the whole thing below.  I put a little “wondering face” emoji over their picture so they are anonymous.

The first question “Do you have them retell in English or French?” ended up going kinda deep.  The thing that got deep is that assessment can be done in any context.

With portfolio assessment such as what is explained in the NATTY (Natural Approach to the Year) book, we are assessing performance — how kids can perform in different contexts.  So, what that means is that assessment is simpler than we think.

Can we let them use the glossary?  Sure.

Can we let them pick the chapter?  Yeah.

Can we let them pick any text from their free-choice reading and read that?  Okie-dokie.

Can we ask them to talk to us individually?  Uh-huh.  

Can we ask them to talk to a partner?  Yup.

Can we ask them to describe a picture?  Yes.

Can we ask them to describe something they have never seen before?
You probably know the answer is going to be affirmative.

The thing is, we can ask them to do all kinds of things, because each thing they do is a snapshot into their ability to perform in that context.  So, if they can talk way better with a prepared outline, yeah, most of us can.  That’s a more supportive context.  And if they can write a ton better with Google translate, then that is to be expected.  In that context.

(Little teacher secret:  I use Google translate or just normal Google like all the time to double-check my French and Spanish…so what’s wrong with using it in composing in class?)

But if we want to see what they would do without any glossary, or technology, talking about a picture of something they have never been before, with one hand on their foot and the other hand on their belly button…well, that’s another (very specific) context.

The reason I love portfolio assessment is because it can serve as a collection of different contexts within which our students can demonstrate their performance.

One important note:  In discussing assessment, performance does NOT mean “performing” like in a memorized sense, like in a play or rehearsed speech/presentation.  THAT is called “presentational speaking” and it s TYPE of performance.

“Performance” just means how do students do when they are using the language.  In other words, how do they perform, in this context, today.  And how will they preform in another context, later?  And with portfolios, we can lay those out alongside each other and see patterns of growth, or an ability to perform better and better in more and more contexts.

In portfolios, we are collecting snapshots of performance in different contexts, and asking kids to reflect on their growth, and including the context under which they did the assessments.  You can download portfolio reflections sheets and rubrics here.

So, if we can ask them to perform in all the different contexts, what is the “rule of thumb” of assessment?  What would be a “good” versus “not-so-good” (which is to say, aligned with the reality of how we acquire language or not aligned with reality)?

My own personal answer to any question on “is this OK for an assessment?” is this:

We can ask them to do this, and that, and whatever, as long as it is asking them to DO SOMETHING NATURAL WITH the WHOLE language, like understand it when they read it or hear it, or say things in it, or write stuff in it…and NOT asking them to remember certain words, or write using certain verb forms, or correctly output certain things.

As long as we are letting them interact in a natural way with the whole language, I say, it’s all good.

OK now for the text conversation that unleashed this onto the world.

Anonymous Dot



Go Easy on Yourself

I want you to know that I’m tired too. I want you to know that I once spent the whole period talking in English about violence and kindness in schools.  Because the students were protesting gun violence and it was on all our minds, and our hearts.  And Monday I had them watch videos of me and other teachers on YouTube. And Tuesday they read the whole period. I want you to know that half the kids were in a field trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival on Thursday and Friday so I felt sorry for the poor kiddos who didn’t get to go. And so we watched the new Sr. Wooly videos and played Quizziz in French. And I especially want you to know that yesterday I played Classic Rock Kahoot with them. Boy did we have a good time.

I want you to know that I am not always running after language acquisition. Sometimes I’m running after being there for my kids. And for myself. I’m trying to be gentle on myself.

How many of us work a second shift? As an employee, a business owner, helping our spouses or partners, on our Other True Calling, or as a parent or caregiver or as a volunteer? Let’s allow ourselves to take some breaks. Heck, my kids already know do much more than the other teachers’ kids! No need to rush.

Let’s allow our class to take some breaks too. Kids need those times too. There’s too much stress on them nowadays. I can’t even imagine.

Go easy, people.

Some Good Questions

I received some good questions from a teacher in Kansas.

Q:  When do corrections in writing happen? I know the point is for comprehension and to make meaning. On our state test, the writing rubric consists of only 1-2 points that come off for tense and spelling, so long as a native speaker could understand it, they get credit. My question is, when does spelling and gender become clarified? I would assume at higher levels once they are more proficient in speaking and listening and reading…

A:  Yes, these things start to sort themselves out in the students’ heads as they gain more input and that builds the mental representation of the language in their heads. I do teach these things explicitly in my second year with my kids, in Spring, before sending them off to the high school which is super grammar focused.

Q:  In the meantime, perhaps I could do spelling tests, like kids do in elementary school? Give some key words they already know (or new words) and have them spell them like we did in fourth grade!  I also saw on Ben’s webpage, he had some resources of benchmarks required by his school. In the sample benchmark test, it was testing meaning of vocabulary (multiple choice style) with some grammar included (ex: noirs/noir when asking about the color of les deux chats…or something like that).

A:  Dictée are also good for teaching/correcting spelling. They are very valuable, according to my students.  Yes you can mix in conscious learning at any time. My advice is to wait till Spring though since the kids will have confidence from almost a year of listening, reading etc.


Q:  I know for me, and my students, I always try to get them to memorize if a word is masculine or feminine once the word is learned. I am still teaching the traditional textbook way (for now), and it seems easiest to memorize the gender when you learn the word. I suppose if students hear the word, they will automatically here the le or la….or un or une…but when does the definition of these words come out?

A:  The students should be able to understand the meaning (definition) when they hear and read the words. If they do not know the word you need to establish meaning. That can be done by writing English by the French on the board, or gesturing, pictures, etc.

My students do not just “pick up” on the genders in general. Because I only have them for two years, and I think that the ability to remember m/f is something that takes a LOT of exposures. So, I teach them the concept along (generally during reading time, when I am reading something back o them that we did for Write and Discuss) by just pointing it out in English as we read. “Hey kids notice this is grand and this is grande. That’s because dog is masculine (see how it says LE Chien) and mouse is feminine (See how it says LA souris or UNE souris). In French everything is either masculine or feminine.” Then

in the end of year two we consciously study that since the HS is traditional. If I had them for years and years and did not feed them to the HS I would likely make less of a deal about this.

Q:  Or the difference to listen in sounds? How do you teach masc/fem? I can say I did watch a video of a native speaker doing circling, and she wrote “le forêt” on the board; I had to double check myself, when I knew it was supposed to be “la” (and it is), I realized natives make mistakes too. They aren’t taught masc/fem as we are, but…when/how is genders taught?!?!

This leads to agreement. I just spent a lot of time with my level 2s on adjective agreement and spelling and pronunciation. They have learned to write with agreement, even though in hindsight I realize how difficult that can be, especially since we don’t have gendered nouns in English. How is this taught, as the pronunciation may come from CI and listening activities, but how is grammar like agreement corrected, and when? It seems like it could be frustrating for students, asking, “Why didn’t we learn this the first time?” (I know I’d be upset as a student, but I’m a perfectionist!)

A:  Most kids are not such perfectionists as we are. I offer the kids the option of having me point out their errors in their writings if they leave me a note to do so. Most kids do not really care but some do like the feedback.

It’s a mind shift to start to allow them to just “pick up” on the genders. But like I said it CAN be explicitly taught in cases of urgency. But if you have them for years I would lay off the grammar and agreement and such till late in their careers. It is a question of equity and student engagement. Most kids just do not care and for a lot of them it is HARD to conceptualize all the grammar stuff, so it impedes their engagement/enjoyment of the class. So, if we teachers can just realize that the agreement/ conjugation errors are really, in my vide at least, merely SPELLING errors, and do not usually impede comprehensibility of the message, then we can relax some unless there are grammar assessments that we simply MUST administer. In that case, I would say just TEACH the stuff. But if it is a question of us just being antsy and feeling like “they should GET this by now” then that means we need to do some inner work on letting go and trusting the natural process of SLA…which can be hard for some of us, like me, who DO love grammar. 🙂


Q:  Lastly. verb conjugations. UGH! Students, of course, are expected to know what a verb chart looks like and need to know the grammatical structures for upper level courses. Besides the issue of having students feed into grammar based teachers, who will be upset at us CI teachers for not teaching grammar, how or when do you do a verb conjugation chart? I’m sure students would get funny looks if they continue French in college and not know what that is (although their speaking and listening/reading skills will be great!).


A:  I do these at the end of the second year, and the kids still struggle with them! Well, most of them are like, “That makes sense” but she of them still just have such a hard time with it conceptually. Historically I feel that languages have been taught to the élite and therefore the kids who struggle with the traditional grammar approach just did not persist with languages. Teaching with CI and putting grammar and conjugations into a minimal place in our courses really does help to level the playing field, equity- wise. So it is a very important issue to me. I do allow them to do as many re-takes as they need, to finally get the grammar concepts. I feel like that is my duty to the kids.

The teacher added on:

I saw the importance of SLOW in a video! I was watching some YouTube videos, and some other circling/ CI videos came up from other teachers. There was a

Spanish (native) teacher doing it, and she was not going slow enough. You could tell the students were a little lost (but the native speaker didn’t pick up, as what she was saying seemed simple to her), I still learned some things and picked up words, but it was not nearly as good as going SLOW…it takes time for the gears to turn and process everything that is going on up there!!! SLOW is where it’s at!

My comments:  Yes, it is the king, the foundational skill of CI. And yet so hard to do!
Sounds like you are on the right track…just need to separate the “gotta do” in your grammar/spelling instruction from the “this just makes me a little uncomfortable” stuff…and try to work to get yourself comfortable with letting go a little, maybe.