Friday, March 13, 2015

Safety Net

One of the components of Krashen's Comprehensible Input hypothesis is that when one's affective filter rises, learning is compromised. Perhaps, a better way of putting it is that in order for students to learn, they need to feel emotionally safe in your classroom: safe to ask questions, safe to interact with their peers, and safe to make mistakes. If students feel safe in your classroom, they are more apt to learn.

Our primary goal as CI/TPRS teachers is to deliver understandable messages in the target language. Many CI/TPRS teachers incorporate a "safety net" for students, which is a series of hand gestures which students can use to communicate non-verbally when anything impedes the comprehension of those messages. Students have full permission to use any of these signs/gestures whenever they want. Some basic signs are:
  • Slow down, you're speaking too quickly
  • Louder - I cannot hear you
  • Say it again please
  • What does X mean?
  • I don't understand at all what you are saying
My friend Evan Gardner, founder of "Where Are Your Keys?" best explains it when he tells students, "These techniques are like super powers. You have the power to control me, your teacher. You want me to slow down? Use your "Slow Down" power. You want me to say something again? Use your "Again" power, and I will do it." 

I always add, "If I ever say something in Latin which you do not understand, then that is MY fault. BUT if you do not use your powers, I am going to assume that everything is okay, and I will keep moving on. If you do not understand something, do NOT just sit there and suffer in silence when you have the power to control your own learning."


You can make the gestures whatever you want them to be, or you can have the class create them. The idea though is that these gestures are part of the class "safety net". Because these signs are communicated non-verbally, they do not interrupt class; students can give a sign without saying a word, and you as the teacher can address the concern on the spot without drawing attention to that student.

I am amazed by how students have taken ownership of these hand signs and use them in class. As a teacher, I SO appreciate it when students will flash me a sign. In fact, I have students saying, “I wish that I could use these hand signs in my math class!” Why don't more teachers in other subject areas adopt them?! 

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