This year, I have switched to almost completely non-targeted Comprehensible Input. I have not blogged about it sooner because of many different reasons. Number one being, that I am very new to it. If I am honest, I am much better at trying and failing and trying again to find out what works best for me, rather than reading lots of different ways others do it and trying it in my room. For me, I need to just get in and “do” then I can understand what people write about later because I can relate to it. Now that I understand “WHAT” non-targeted CI looks like in my classroom I can blog about it. Secondly, at the beginning of the academic school year, I was reading and sensing a lot of negative feelings around the idea of “non-targeted CI”. In fact, that is why I wrote my blog on respecting every teacher who is attempting some form of CI in their room. It doesn’t matter what that CI looks like as long as it is compelling and comprehensible to our kiddos. It will ALWAYS look different in different schools and different classrooms because not one of us teachers are the same, and not one of our students are either. We are all unique and therefore, our teaching styles are too! I was honestly scared to blog about non-targeted CI too early, for fear of not being able to confidently defend myself if I came across some of the ugly push back I have seen online. I am excited to finally share all that has been happening in my class this year with non-targeted input.
SO, here we go! The HOW!?, What!?!? When!?!? and Why!?!? to non-targeted CI in La Loca’s classroom:
I think of targeting as trying to get lots of reps out of high frequency vocabulary through circling while using many forms of CI (Movie Talks, PQA, TPRS, etc.) So when did I start using non-targeted input? It happened totally naturally at the beginning of the year. I sort of fell into it. Often times when doing a more targeted approach to CI, what I like to call “spin-offs” often happen. For example, if I am targeting the word le gusta (s/he likes), the other high frequency words that are most often introduced or come up on that day are: both, neither, prefer, and love. (los dos, ninguno, prefiere, and le encanta). In MY approach to non-targeted CI, rather than just briefly mentioning those words as they happen and writing them up on the board, I become a pretzel, and allow my whole focus to shift into targeting THOSE words instead. In a sense I guess, I am targeting what ever the students “want” me to target. This is another place where I see OWL (Organic World Languages) blending with the Comprehensible Input in my classroom. The way I target this year is very organic, it is unplanned (for the most part). I also have lost the need to circle at all. I get the reps in through natural use of the language. I feel better about this and so do my kids!
The first day it happened, I was introducing our “dicho” of the week, and I had a photo of David Beckham on the board and his son. They are like two peas in a pod! (se parecen como dos gotas de agua in Spanish). In my first class of the day, one student didn’t know who David Beckham was. I was horrified, as were some of her classmates. That day I had planned to “target” debe (s/he should) in 8th grade, using PQA and some photos in a presentation. Instead, I let the conversation shift, and we focused on the words juega (s/he plays) and quiere ser (s/he wants to be). The first was a review word for them but the second was fairly new. After talking for 15 minutes about David Beckham and his career, we spun off into a discussion of what we want to be when we grow up and then the next day I did a great movie talk with this video. The kids were SO engaged, and I loved that it felt completely organic, and they felt like we were just conversing. I decided to just “go with it” in my next class too…
With seventh grade I had “planned” to target “trabaja”. I had written a great story for us to read together on my power point. I again, was introducing the dicho, and one of my boys said something hysterical in Spanish about David Beckham having a really spicy wife. I about died laughing because I knew he was referring to Victoria Beckham, formerly a member of the Spice Girls. (I WAS OBSESSED, and I STILL have a pink shirt of “Spice World” that I wanted to wear every single day in 4th grade!) I slowly, and comprehensibly broke down who it was that Beckham was married to, and pulled up photos of the Spice Girls on Google. Turns out only 2!!!, TWO!!! yes, only TWO students knew of the Spice Girls. This lesson turned into something totally different than what I had planned and I ended up introducing one new “structure” puede + infinitive and we rolled with that, using other recycled language that they had already acquired. We ended up movie talking our way through one of the Spice Girl’s music videos!! Again, the kids felt totally in control, they guided it, I was in total control of the language and input given, but THEY decided what was compelling for the day.
One of the biggest questions I get when people observe is how do I pick the language, how do I know WHAT to target when they steer the conversation? I think the most important part of teaching using non-targeted CI, is knowing WHAT it is that your students already know, and being very familiar with the most frequently used words in Spanish. When I used to target vocabulary, I used “structures” (usually verbs) from the most frequently used words lists. Denver Public Schools has a fantastic wiki, and you can find the Spanish and French High freqency word lists here. Mary Overton and I wrote the Middle School curriculum on CIteachers.com together, using those structures. I know what it is my students need to ACQUIRE to be successful communicators. I also know the language they already know. So, as they steer conversation, I pick the most suitable language that lends itself to whatever they want to talk about and THAT is how I decide what language is used for the day. It really isn’t “targeted” language though. It is the language that is needed to make it INTERESTING, COMPELLING, and ENGAGING.
ALL of the most frequently used words will ORGANICALLY and NATURALLY happen and be used in your classroom. The one thing I do NOT do, is I don’t allow for lots of out-of-bounds words outside of the high frequency structures I am using that day. This may look different from other non-targeted CI classrooms. Do I allow for what language is needed to keep them interested and engaged?, yes. But I manipulate and shelter language to use what they already know. For example, in the class where we focused on plays and wants to be in my example above, I didn’t introduce tons of “professions” but rather focused on the “quiere ser” and then the kids and I circumlocuted the professions together. Rather than saying psychologist, we said Ben wants to be a person who helps people with their problems. Rather than explaining to the class that Katie wants to be a pediatric doctor, I gave them the comprehensible input by pulling up pictures of doctors and explaining that Katie wants to be a person who helps children who hurt and don’t feel good. ALL of the other vocabulary I was using to circumlocute, consisted of words and structures they had already acquired or that were cognates.
The “why” is my favorite. I have always been pretty lucky, in both private and public schools to have my classes be well liked. Outside of my belief that this is largely to due to how I feel about my students and treat them because of that, I think it is ALL about the method. This year, has by far been my best year of teaching with Comprehensible Input. I truly believe it is because I have chosen to be more organic rather than structured and targeted. My students have ALWAYS steered the curriculum because if you are doing CI correctly, it should be compelling input which is only compelling if it is about things they are interested in, or about them! Well now, they actually “feel” in control. They “feel” like they are steering everything. Before, they loved class because I talked every day, about something they thought was cool or interesting. Now, they love class because I talk about what ever THEY want to talk about on THAT day!
The other day, I overheard 3 students talking during lunch. These are three of my more mischievous 7th grade boys. They didn’t know that I had come in to eat and was sitting behind them. One of them said, “dude, in Spanish today, we completely distracted Maestra and she didn’t get to teach anything that she planned! We ended up just talking the whole time about the dance last weekend.” Then the other boy chimed in and explained, “she even pulled up pictures from our Instagram accounts” (to talk about what different people were wearing). Then the OTHER boy said, “Oh! I know! She is the EASIEST teacher to derail! All you have to say is something half way cool or interesting, and she goes with it and before you know it, class is over!” Then he proceeded to compare me to the dog DOUG from the movie “Up”. SQUIRREL! These classes are ALWAYS 95% or more in the Target Language. What they don’t realize is THAT IS THE PLAN! I WANT them in control! That day with the “dance” talk that the boys spoke about, lleva (s/he wears) naturally came up and I combined it with está + ando/iendo (is __ing) which we had used a lot the day before. I pulled up ACTUAL pictures of the students in my class and their friends in their pretty outfits, headed to the dance. They ate it up!
So I guess the students are right…. I am a bit like Doug, but I love every minute of this ever changing, creative, spontaneous, group created input that is happening in my classroom.
There you have it! All summed up… actually that was much longer than I thought it would be! But I got excited and let my fingers run wild!
If you are going to Comprehensible Cascadia already and if you are interested in learning more about non-targeted CI, and my approach to it, and you are eager and willing to give it a go, consider signing up for my pre-conference workshop! I promise we will have fun! And if you aren’t already signed up for Cascadia, you should! It is going to be a great conference, and in such a beautiful city, PORTLAND! 🙂
Until next time,
La Maestra Loca