Friday, February 9, 2018

Dabbling in CI

Last semester, Dr. Matthew Panciera, an associate professor in Classics at Gustavus Adolphus College, visited the Latin department at my school (Bob Patrick, Rachel Ash, Miriam Patrick, John Foulk, and me). He had seen many CI presentations at last summer's ACL Summer Institute (in fact, Matt presided at my session), and he wanted to see actual CI implementation in the Latin classroom. For two days, Matt observed all levels of our Latin classes from Latin 1 to AP among five different teachers and saw many different, compelling ways of delivering CI in Latin (everything from Circling with Balls to Movie Talks to the Word Chunk game). When he came to observe my Latin 2 classroom, we were doing 4-Word Picture Stories - not exactly the most dynamic CI activity to see in my opinion. Afterwards, when I showed Matt what students had written, he was amazed at what they were able to produce just after one year of Latin. Yes, there were grammar errors all over the place, but students were communicating! On his last day, during a conversation with me during my planning period, Matt asked me "So how does one begin dabbling in CI? How can begin using CI as a newbie?"

This is such a great, honest question, and at the same time, a HUGE question to answer. I know that there are SO many teachers out there who have heard of CI through various means (social media, blogs, Facebook groups, word of mouth) or have attended presentations on various strategies; perhaps, they have even attended a NTPRS or IFLT Conference. As a result, these teachers wish to implement some CI into their curriculum but are unsure about it or even where to begin with it all, because it all feels so new. I completely understand this, because I was once there, and in many ways, still am.

With the second semester now underway and with many teachers asking the same question as Matt, let me respond here:
  • Pick the low hanging fruit first. As I have stated many times before here in this blog, if you are a first-timer/newbie to CI/wanting to see what CI is all about, begin by taking 1-2 CI strategies into your traditional curriculum and running with them. Pick the fruit which you are able to obtain easily from the tree before attempting to pick the fruit at the top! I would never recommend jumping all-in without having a strong foundation, because after the honeymoon period wears off, most likely, you will have no idea where to go with it all (I can tell you all about that from firsthand experience). As a result, you will blame the method as faulty instead of realizing that you bit off more than you could chew. I know that there are CI-implementers out there who will completely disagree with me on this and argue that one needs to go all-in when using a CI approach or needs to adhere fully to CI tenets before beginning. My suggestion has always been to start off slow in order to build up your CI muscles. 
  • Attempt to understand the "why" behind a particular CI strategy - It is easy to get caught up in activities without really understanding and reflecting on its efficacy. When implementing those 1-2 strategies, pay close attention to how it delivered comprehensible input - essentially, why did this activity/strategy "work"? How did this strategy/reflect comprehensible input? See here for more about this. 
  • Remember that immersion is not necessarily CI. Just because one decides to go full target language immersion in the classroom does not mean that the messages are understandable. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive though - see here for my feelings on the matter.
  • Focus on a reading in your textbook. Pick a reading in your textbook which you wish to cover and "CI it up" through various ways.
I know that there are many teachers who view CI strategies as just another tool to add to their toolbox of traditional pedagogy, since according to them, "there is no one single way/method to teach." Essentially, they are dabblers. I know that this deeply angers many CI-practitioners, because it almost sounds like blasphemy - in their minds, "How dare you implement CI with that kind of thinking? It is so contradictory."

Guess what? I completely understand dabblers, because I was once one. Ten years ago, I was teaching straight from the textbook but also was implementing (not exclusively though) TPRS, circling, and PQAs as part of my teaching arsenal. My methodology was very traditional, but these CI strategies were great tools to implement every once in awhile and to add novelty to the curriculum. By no means, however, did I embrace CI - far from it! Over time (we are talking MANY years), though, I began to see how these strategies were truly helping my students acquire the language in a way which my traditional teaching was not. As a result, I wanted to pursue it. The point is that I had to arrive to that conclusion myself on my own time. Pointing out my flawed argument and telling me that I was wrong for embracing traditional teaching only put up walls. Instead of arguing, we should be rejoicing that that some type of CI is being implemented with these teachers!

I am not completely interested in getting into long dialogues arguing about CI (I will defend my use of CI though). Quite honestly, the way I see is that all I can do is put information out there about CI and my usage of it, and to leave it there. I cannot change peoples' minds about CI, nor do I want to get caught up in that. Folks have to come to their own conclusion about CI on their own timeline, and guess what? They may NEVER to come to the same conclusion about CI as I have, and I have to accept that - see here for more about my feelings on the matter.

So for those of you out there who wish to dabble with CI, go for it. I hope that as a result you will come to the same conclusion which I have about CI. Here's to the journey!

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