Sunday, September 4, 2016

Pacing Yourself

With the beginning of the school year already in swing for some and soon to be for others, there is always a sense of excitement for CI/TPRS teachers, both experienced and beginners. I love returning from CI conferences like IFLT and NTPRS, because they are always right before I report back to work (we here in GA usually begin the 1st or 2nd week of August). As a result, my mind is full of ideas, and my enthusiasm and "CI high" have not worn off yet when the school year starts. These conferences energize me to return back to the classroom with a mindset that all students can learn a language both when understandable and compelling messages are delivered, and trust has been established between students and teacher.

From my own experience though, I also know that there will be a honeymoon period where everything I do in my classroom will seem to be going well. Students are somewhat excited to be back, and the novelty of returning back to school has not worn off yet for them (and for me). My attitude is, "Wow, CI is going great! My students love it, and I cannot think of teaching Latin any other way."

And then the honeymoon ends. Students begin to become overwhelmed with work in other classes, and the novelty of school wears off. Enthusiasm among students (and me as the teacher) begins to wane, and it becomes more of an effort to teach using CI, as the "CI high," which I once had, dissipates. Suddenly, I realize that I really have no idea where I am going with CI implementation - essentially I feel like I have hit a wall.

Too many times, I see teachers new to CI start off strongly with CI at the beginning of the school year and then suddenly drop it after a month or so when things become difficult or overwhelming. In their dismissal of CI, they blame the pedagogy methods as the reason and return to their former ways of teaching. So many times, I want to tell them, "Just because things become difficult does not mean that the method itself is the problem. It may have a number of things, such as you trying to take on too much too soon, having an unrealistic expectation of CI as a panacea, lacking collegial and collaborative support, etc." 

Why is that I can say that? Because that scenario is me. When I first began to implement TPRS years ago, I only lasted six weeks and returned back to the textbook. Each year after that, however, I returned to TPRS and lasted a little longer each time. When I fully committed to implementing CI back in the fall of 2013, though I had somewhat of a CI foundation due to TPRS, I slowly began to introduce a number of new strategies and techniques into my regimen.

So what are some ways one can pace themselves with facilitating CI, especially those teachers starting out with CI or experimenting with it?

1) Don't feel like you have to do EVERYTHING right away. When it comes to facilitating CI after a conference like IFLT or NTPRS, I have come to the realization that if I try to implement too many of these new ideas too quickly, then I will burn out or lose focus, because I am trying to take on too much without the proper foundation. For the past few years, I have made a list of CI goals for the school year (see here for 2014-2015's and 2015-2016's goals), and I actually have to laugh at my list for 2016-2017, because of how short it is. In past years, I have listed between 7-11 goals, while for this year, I have only written three. In some ways, some of those past goals have now become part of my teaching routine so I do not need to list them any longer, but honestly, I also now know that it is more realistic to focus on a few in order to do those well.

2) Continue to receive some type of formal CI training, such as at a 2-day Blaine Ray workshop, an area CI meeting such as CI Midwest, or at a summer weeklong conference like IFLT or NTPRS. Although there is nothing wrong with reading CI blogs for ideas and encouragement, solely relying on social media for one's CI knowledge can result in misinterpretation. As I have said before, there is nothing like learning another language via CI, because as a student, you get the chance to experience it firsthand like one of your students. Although I thoroughly enjoy seeing CI demonstrations done in Latin, they are actually limiting for me, because I am simply observing CI in action, not experiencing it firsthand. 

3) Join a TCI support group either in person or online. Many areas have physical TCI groups which meet for support, coaching, and collaboration -  I am trying to organize one for the metro Atlanta area. I love the fact that even in Alaska, a group of CI teachers meet throughout the school year on a Friday evening to share ideas (that group includes Betsy Paskvan, Martina Bex, and Michele Whaley - I need to be a part of that one). If your area does not have a physical TCI group, then create an online group of CI users from across the country through Skype or Google Hangout. 

4) Attend a CI webinar. TPRS Publishing has some great webinars, as does Fluency Fast.

5) Realize that it is okay to "fail" at CI; the real sign of success is how you handle it afterwards. Good CI teachers did not just come out of a box as good CI teachers - they all had their shares of success and of failures. At IFLT this past summer, I loved hearing the lab teachers talk about their first experiences implementing CI/TPRS: when a field trip got cancelled and Donna Tatum-Johns found herself without a lesson plan, she decided to do a TPRS story, saying dismissively "Really how hard can this be?"; Jason Fritze talked about how he thought it would be too easy to introduce just 3 vocabulary words/structures in a TPRS story, so instead he introduced 12 and found out the hard way that 3 is much better! I love stories like those, because they always give me hope - if these CI/TPRS teachers whom I hold in such respect struggled with it in the beginning, then it is okay (and par for the course) to struggle and to fail.

I wish all of you the best of luck as you progress through the school year!

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