[You might have noticed this post appeared, originally, incomplete… it was. After having planned open-heart surgery at the beginning of the school year, a large ovarian mass, borderline cancerous, was discovered in December. My surgery was planned for March 19th. Wednesday, March 13th, I ended up in the emergency room with extreme pain. I had emergency surgery to remove the mass early that morning. All of this has left me once again recovering at home. I had planned to complete this post before March 15th.]
There are three main tenets of comprehensible input. It is not enough just to supply a ton of in-target language input in the classroom, but to connect the input with the students and to connect, emotionally, with the students, beyond the input. Multiple research studies have shown that students learn more from teachers who they believe care about them and to whom they have a connection.
What follows is a description of how I include the three tenets of comprehensible input.
Comprehensible – Not to ride a dead horse, here, but comprehensible messages are the end-all-be-all of CI. The input we give to students needs to be understandable. Students need to be able to comprehend the messages they are receiving. This does not mean the students can’t be challenged. They can and should be always receiving input slightly above their current level of understanding. But, that input needs to be as natural as possible. The challenges need to be introduced in such a way as to make them comprehensible to students. Grammar should not be limited in unnatural ways. If a verb should be in the future tense, the passive voice, or in a subjunctive mood, in order to be natural to the target language, then make it so… don’t worry if the students don’t recognize the new grammar construction, they will, the more they see it in natural and understandable messages.
Believe it or not, I’ve introduced students to four of the five declensions, to the irregular “-abus” ablative ending feminine nouns, four tenses, and the passive voice by the end of the first semester of Latin I. Do the students know the “linguistic” names of each of these things or the charts verbatim? Nope. Can they understand the message, though? Yup. Absolutely.
Part of this tenet is also the need for comprehension checks. I’ve done some soul-searching about this and don’t think I’m doing enough of this to be absolutely sure I am keeping my messages comprehensible. My use of exit slips, solely, as the check is not quite enough, I’m afraid. I’m now designing a quick cheat-sheet of responses and basic questions, in Latin, for students to reference when I ask for comprehension throughout a lesson. I’m thinking of hand gestures, words, phrases, etc. that can help them communicate with me when they get it, they’re confused, I need to slow down or repeat something. My goal is to have these index cards cheat-sheets on the desk for students at the start of next year.
Compelling – Ever been forced to read a book for school that you had no desire or inclination to read? Yeah, that’s the opposite of compelling. I fondly remember the first opportunity in high school to choose my own book for a reading project (I chose the longest novel available because it had the most interesting, to me, plotline. My peers chose the shorter novels, with a rather less interesting, to a high schooler, plotline. Guess who finished their book? Me. Who didn’t finish? Everyone else.) We find those things compelling which are most interesting or personal to us. And the things we find compelling? We enjoy them more and remember more about them.
With CI, if students are interested in something, if it is compelling to them, they forget about the learning and focus on the moment. They don’t get wrapped up in the grammar, the grades, the assignment, etc. instead they get lost in the language and the “story.” And when they’re asked to think about the story again, they can, and the language is there as well, right where it needs to be, easily understood and comprehensible.
To build compelling “stories” I believe the element of creativity needs to be included in as many class activities as it can. Allowing students to make a choice forces them, kindly, to consider their own interests, needs, abilities, etc. and increases the odds of any activity being compelling to them personally.
Caring – My students know I care about them. I ask about their weekends, their triumphs in the sports they compete in, their pets, if they’re feeling better after a sickness, how their parents are doing, etc. I listen to them. I follow-up with them. I sympathize with their struggles. For me, this is just a natural extension of teaching. My students and I spend a lot of time together. In order to know what might interest them, I need to know them.
How does this relate to CI? Students who walk into a classroom in which they are welcomed and comfortable, cared about for who they are, are less likely to be under stress – stress which can hamper learning (for example: when I am stressed about a parent-teacher call, I am less likely to listen carefully to the parent or remember anything from the discussion beyond generalizations) – and more likely to seek help when they don’t comprehend a message. I don’t know about you, but I like students who aren’t afraid to ask questions or for clarification. That’s the feedback I need to make the class better. Without it, both of the students and I are lost.
Since I’m still in the early stages of my journey with CI, I’m sure these tenets help keep me focused on what I need to do each day to make sure the students are receiving the greatest benefit of this instructional practice and I am doing all I can to make each day as rewarding for us all as possible.