Over 100 people responded within a few hours to a teacher’s plea on FB that there must be a middle ground between CI and Traditional Instruction. So much of the debate revolves around the definition of each that many people focused on three points:
- to teach grammar or not to teach grammar
- to start with a vocab list or to create vocab lists based on students’ interest
- to confuse TPRS as CI when TPRS is one method under the CI umbrella
Many teachers have the freedom to craft their curriculum as they work in a supportive environment for such creativity. But for many of us, our students must pass district wide traditional assessments and will be forwarded the following year to traditional teachers who will complain to our superiors that our students are ill-prepared for their traditional teaching. Some of these traditional teachers have deep-rooted social skills and connections and their criticism could jeopardize the previous teacher’s job or at least create a hostile environment as they tarnish their colleague’s reputation.
Some teachers have administrators who expect to see the students producing the spoken language immediately, while other teachers have the freedom to sustain an input-only environment. Some middle school teachers need to focus on students from very diverse elementary schools working well with everyone in the class as part of building social skills while some high school teachers never even consider this. Some teachers teach upper levels, some only the first entry level.
So what is the middle ground? For me, as a Spanish One teacher, I teach all of the vocabulary words and grammar points that ‘must be covered’ and teach my students how to use the text and conjugation charts to survive the teachers they will have the following year. (One year I never showed the conjugating box, although my students could tell you which verb sounds right with the different subject pronouns. My former students came back to me in tears that they were belittled as their current teachers hand out a year-long packet of blank conjugation boxes to be filled in. Oops!)
This is my protection armor so that there is harmony in my department and my students aren’t belittled for having had me.
However, I teach using 90% target language and 100% comprehensible input. I script my daily lessons with over 100 slides and use transitional musical videos to stay on task and in the target language. These transitional videos structure my daily lesson while the actual activities are so varied – including movietalk, readings, native-speaker listening and matching activities, embedded readings, daily news from the BBC Mundo, stories about our Pandilla, song of the week, music, dance, brain breaks, and many other great activities that CI purists endorse.
And I include paired practice and many spontaneous speaking activities that purists believe are a waste of time as the input is from a fellow student.
I include a picture from the culture of different countries and have the students consider “lo veo, lo observo, me pregunto” as a prompt for higher-level thinking skills.
It takes them beyond the English-Spanish translation and forces them to discern what they see from what they observe. It encourages them to ask more questions and wonder rather than just make a judgment.
I also include Textivate for writing and Quizlet for practice for department tests, and do a daily two minute review of previous vocabulary using amazing visuals created by my Venezuelan graphic artist that show racial diversity.
However, everything is in the target language and with visual and audio support it is 100% comprehensible and engaging. To ensure this, the class is sprinkled with checking in with a partner for meaning.
Each reflective language teacher has the responsibility of crafting his or her own teaching voice that blends theory with what actual works for his or her students and ensures continued employment. Many of us in the middle owe a huge debt to the CI social media groups who have made us better teachers. I thank the giants for their sharing their wisdom and making me a better teacher.
Yet some of us in the middle feel a bit underrepresented and invisible. Some of us are always insulted in social media for not being “CI” enough. (I can tell you right now who will leave a negative remark after I post this on FB.) It reminds me of what I learned from the US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – if you only follow certain social media, you have a limited viewpoint while believing otherwise. There are many of us non – purists helping students acquire language. We are busy, we are quiet, but we are here, grateful to the purists, but crafting our own teaching voices.
Here is a video of the presentation I did for CSCTFL in March of 2018.
All of my visual and musical support are created by three Venezuelan families who receive all the net proceeds from my sharing their creativity.