Many times, when I’m faced with trying to explain what I’m doing in my class – either questioned by a colleague, an administrator, a parent, or even a student – I use the term “Comprehensible Input” and then get met with either looks of disdain – “another buzzword, another fix… why fix what ain’t broke” – or looks of confusion – “what? and this means…” – and I am forced to explain.
And then, after I struggle to explain CI and my class, I am frequently left to wonder whether I am accurately explaining either or if I’m actually doing what I say I am. Self-doubt is a drain.
(Why do I even try to support or explain what I’m doing? Because what little I’ve already done has made a HUGE impact in my classroom.)
What is Comprehensible Input?
It is a concept, introduced by Stephen Krashen in the 1970s and 1980s, in which second-language acquisition occurs via input – what students hear and read – that is comprehensible – able to be understood.
Though it is not, strictly speaking, a method, approach, or technique, for me, it is often easier to think of CI in that way. After all, CI influences the approach I take, the techniques I try, and the method by which I plan lessons.
- Is the activity I am doing comprehensible?
- Am I providing input? Or enough input each class and over time?
- Is the input appropriate? Conversely, is it challenging what they already know in order to increase proficiency?
- Will students comprehend what I’m saying or writing naturally?
- Can students use what I’m saying or writing to form contextual language of their own?
Sometimes, the answers are yes. Sometimes, the answers are no.
So, the question then becomes, why are the answers sometimes no? Why wouldn’t or shouldn’t every answer be yes?
A couple of reasons
- I do not feel 100% comfortable with my own Latinitias or ability to think, write, and speak in authentic Latin comprehensibly and accurately. I struggle with some advanced concepts and the fine-tuning of the language. My own vocabulary is limited. Not because of a lack of training or learning, but because language is infinitely hard to perfect, even by native speakers of any modern language, and we tend to use and reuse the vocabulary and structures we are used to and comfortable with. I firmly believe experience is the best teacher and I am just beginning this experience (Latin as a living language for communication, not a dead one to be translated). When I feel inadequate, I revert away from CI.
- Though my county is leaning more and more towards proficiency and performance goals in language studies, in Latin we still have a curriculum based on thematic units of vocabulary and grammar. We have set grammatical goals each level of Latin should reach: identify with and without context, translate accurately, use in written language, etc. and a list of vocabulary words to be memorized. I am still required to work within this framework. Students are required to reach these goals at set interludes, with assessments tracking progress. This doesn’t mean I’m not pushing the bounds of the curriculum and the rigid framework of units to offer input comprehensibly (so that students can acquire language naturally*), but I can’t completely step outside the box. Students move between teachers and schools often enough to warrant some balance.
- Time. For most of my time as a public school teacher, I’ve been at more than one school. I travel between schools, or sometimes, my students travel between schools. Either way, I don’t have just one school’s worth of additional duties and paperwork to follow-up on, I have multiples. In addition, I have five preps of Latin. I teach all levels of Latin our county offers. All of which takes time to plan and grade. And sometimes, there just isn’t enough time to rework all my activities from non-CI to CI and when time is short, I revert to what I already have created, which frequently rely on students performing set objectives whether comprehended or not, whether or not the input is understood.
* Krashen reasoned that the natural order of language acquisition is consistent for all students and that the natural order of acquisition is not strictly based on how easy a concept is to teach grammatically or in an order that logically makes sense.
What does CI look like?
The following lists of CI activities give a pretty good idea of what CI can and should look like in a classroom. I get many of my ideas, tweaked or not, from these lists and cannot thank enough those creative souls that come up with these ideas in the first place.
This very long, well written, and detailed post by Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick of Pomegranate Beginnings is eye-opening and really helped me see CI in a Latin classroom.