Monday, February 13, 2017

Focusing on the Basics of CI

A few weeks ago, Bob Patrick, Lauren Watson, and I presented a full-day CI in-service for the world language teachers at Lauren's school. During the lunch break, a teacher approached me about how I assessed students using Comprehensible Input. In some ways, I hate this question, not because it deals with assessments, but because the way in which I assess now is so different from the traditional methods. My formative/summative assessments are:
  • completely unannounced but only given when I feel that at least 80% of students will score 80% or higher. In most instances, I will wait until I feel that 90% will score 90% or higher.
  • based on standards-based grading.
  • never longer than 10-minutes in length, because I am only addressing particular standards at a time. I do not need pages of an assessment for students to demonstrate proficiency in a standard.
  • given with the idea that students can do a re-assessment if they (or I) are not pleased with their scores.
In explaining how I assessed students, I could feel this teacher starting to become overwhelmed and to back off a bit from CI, because it sounded like one had to adopt this method in becoming a CI teacher and that this style of assessment was a non-negotiable for a CI classroom.

With someone who is curious about CI or new to the topic, I think that we who are experienced with CI need to be very careful how we present the topic. Many times we start to talk about topics and practices which we ourselves implement in our classrooms that enhance CI but big picture are not exclusive to CI.
  • Yes, I have gone deskless, and it has greatly enhanced my classroom environment, BUT a deskless classroom is not necessary at all for establishing community and lowering the affective filter. For a number of years, my CI classroom had desks, and there are times now where I do miss students having desks.
  • Yes, I have "untextbooked" and am no longer using a textbook, BUT going off the textbook is not a requirement of a CI curriculum. One can deliver understandable messages and apply CI principles to the teaching of a textbook, doing a hybrid approach. It is not easy to facilitate, but many have done it.
  • Yes, I now implement standards-based grading (as opposed to traditional grading), and I am seeing its benefits in my students, BUT you will not find mention of standards based-grading specifically among Krashen's Five Hypotheses of CI (although standards-based grading does cause a teacher to look at teaching differently). One can use standards-based grading in a non-CI classroom.
  • Yes, I allow students to do unlimited retakes (with remediation though) in order for them to demonstrate proficiency in a particular standard, BUT this is not considered a non-negotiable in a CI classroom. To me, student-retakes are an individual teacher decision, but I will say that having a safety net of retakes does lower the affective filter in students when assessing.
I will say that those things which I have stated above do help contribute to and greatly enhance a Comprehensible Input learning environment, but a Comprehensible Input learning environment can exist WITHOUT those things.

When beginning to implement CI into one's classroom, I always suggest baby steps, taking things one step at a time. Begin to major on the majors first, and leave minoring on the minors for later. I have been using CI for four years now, and it is only this year where I have gone deskless, untextbooked, and implemented standards-based grading. I will also say that I felt like I was finally ready to facilitate these changes to my curriculum. 

Let us be sure to focus on the basics of CI when presenting the subject to those who are curious. So many times we can get sidetracked and add irrelevant topics to the message! 

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