August 14, 2018
By Jade Collins
For this guest post, we are pleased to have Jade Collins, a South Carolina high school Spanish teacher who is the brains behind the TpT store, La Secundaria and one of our favorite Spanish teacher Instagram accounts, @lasecundaria_JAC. This year Jade is shifting her teaching to focus on comprehensible input (CI). We hope you enjoy this special guest post about her plan for shifting to CI with novice level high schoolers this year.
Have you seen all the amazing Instagram posts about Comprehensible Input?
Have you seen some of these CI posts, but don’t know exactly what it is? Well, that was me. I saw teachers instructing in Spanish the majority of the class, students using the target language to communicate, and students reading books in Spanish and having discussions about what they read. For more on CI and proficiency approaches, bookmark this post from Elisabeth (Spanish Mama) What Everyone Needs to Know about Language Proficiency to read later.
CI and proficiency all sounds amazing! But there’s a catch, right?!
It can be a lot of work! As I debated if (and how) I might bring this approach to my own classroom, I had to consider several factors:
- You may have to step completely out of your comfort zone. I’m a non-native speaker and giving my students accurate input is important to me but we all make mistakes.
- The way you prep your lessons make have to change slightly or completely. It could take some time until you find a groove. (Which you will! 🙂 )
- I would need many new and different resources to make sure students get the language input they need.
It can feel like a lot to take on, but…
Why take the plunge into comprehensible input?
Hmmm…how many of you get the response below when you tell someone you’re a Spanish teacher?
“I wish I had stuck with Spanish.”
Here are five things that I feel are needed to get started:
Having the mindset that you will provide comprehensible input and that you CAN do it is half the battle. You also have to have the patience to work through this new approach with your students. Since you’ll be teaching mostly in Spanish there will be bumps (and that’s fine) because students won’t know all the words. It will take a bit more effort from them and me for them to understand the message/story I’m telling.
Having a variety of resources is important for students. Incorporating reading, listening, speaking and writing activities will have students develop all skills instead of just one or two. As we get started, I’m planning to focus mainly on listening with my own students, and then slowly build in the other skills of reading, speaking, and writing as we go.
As I transition my students from listening to using their other language skills I want to incorporate resources that will help build confidence. Some resources that I’m very interested in incorporating into my new CI classroom are short reading comprehension passages and exit slips, paired and whole class speaking exercises, and writing exercises that provide my students the opportunity to write freely and communicate their own messages in Spanish. These are quick, formative assessments that will help guide my instruction and decide what they need more or less of in terms of instruction.
There are tons of resources appropriate for comprehensible input. I’ll be preparing some to meet the needs of my students but you can also find great resources on Teachers Pay Teachers (two of my favorite teacher-authors are Martina Bex – The Comprehensible Classroom and Allison Weinhold – Mis Clases Locas). For example, I love Allison’s CI approach to Starting the Year with High Frequency Words. Also, Google is our friend! Maris gave a ton of useful places to find #authres in her recent Secondary Spanish Space post on Incorporating Authentic Resources with novels.
In addition, there are tons of other teachers in the same boat as me. Many are just beginning the journey. I love to follow teachers on social media – my favorite is Instagram – to get the last tips and trends. A great Insta account to get started is @ciliftoff, @thecomprehensibleclassroom, and @misclaseslocas. You might also want to follow me (@lasecundaria_JAC), to see how my own journey as a newbie to CI progresses.
Planning your lessons is very important. I don’t know about you guys but I NEED that organization to help things go more smoothly. It’s also important because you may need props to help you communicate a message to your students. Sometimes you’ll be able to wing it when you have an idea. Other times you’ll want to describe something like …. and get stuck.
PREP. PREP… and MORE PREP! While drawing up lessons, I plan to decide what I want my students to eventually communicate. I will find a story or stories that help me provide input for those given structures in a way that is comprehensible for novice learners. Through use of repetition and comprehension questions; (sí o no) (correcto o incorrecto) and cognates, I plan to guide my students to comprehending what is being communicated in Spanish.
Visual, images, representations are VITAL for students in a CI classroom. Everything (almost) is in Spanish so students need that extra support.
If a word isn’t a cognate and I have no image or representation to help me understand, I can get very frustrated. The image or representation will help students make the connection to that image or moment with that word. I plan to have a PowerPoint presentation of images ready to facilitate comprehension of the messages.There also may be some very bad drawing attempts on the whiteboard.
FUN! Who doesn’t love to play games?! Games will be essential for students. Kids just want to have fun! By incorporating games into the lesson, students will be having fun, learning, and acquiring the language without realizing how much they are learning. Digital tools like Quizlet Live can be a great way to engage students with a little healthy competition, while keeping things CI focused (see Jen’s Secondary Spanish Space post on 7 Reasons to Love Quizlet Live for more).
What do you think?
Jade Collins has experience teaching all levels of high school Spanish, including IB with a diverse student population. This year, as she takes on a new position at a middle college, she is embracing teaching with comprehensible input. To see how it goes, follow Jade’s journey on her new blog, La secundaria.