Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Guest Post - Finding Support and Avoiding Burnout

I am very pleased to share that my colleague and friend John Foulk has written today's blog post. It is a description, play by play, and debrief from his and my presentation this summer for our district on finding support for teachers who use Comprehensible Input. Thank you John for this wonderful post!

Everything is exciting when you are a teacher beginning to use CI in your classroom. You are having fun with your students as you all use the target language in fun and enriching ways - Total Physical Response (TPR), Movie Talks, Reader’s Theatre, you name it! You become the facilitator of all this fun and the language expert for your students. Your students depend on you each and every day to make your messages in the target language comprehensible and compelling and to slow down when they do not understand. As much fun as you and your students are having and as much as they are acquiring the language, you carry a great responsibility and you will inevitably need resources for inspiration and for your own sanity. The purpose of this post is to show you that you are not alone as a CI teacher, whether you’re a newbie or a veteran. It can be exhausting being the language acquisition facilitator in your classroom and that is normal! Few, if any, of us learned our language with CI, so our CI teaching experiences have been a mix of successes and failures and of trial and error. Whether you’re the only language teacher in your school (or of your particular language) or one of a large foreign language department, we all need support and resources upon which we may depend.


The fact that you’re reading a CI blog like this in the first place shows that you are already taking the wise first step to seek support! There are MANY CI blogs out there, so check them out and find ones you like! Blogs are great resources for activities (often with materials for free!) and units and provide an opportunity for you to read about other teachers’ experiences. Many blogs are specific to a particular language, but many are not. If you teach German, still consult blogs for CI Spanish because many activities will work regardless of the language you teach. It is easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of blogs, but go at your own pace. Consult them with a specific goal in mind (e.g. looking for writing activities, how to teach family vocabulary, et al.), then find your favorites, and then read further when you have the time. Simply put, go at your own pace.

Recommended CI Blogs:

Blog Name
Latin Best Practices

Also on Facebook
Run by Bob Patrick, John Piazza, and David Maust; Latin examples, but all languages are welcome
The Comprehensible Classroom
Run by Martina Bex. Spanish specific, but.. LOTS of great stuff for all languages
Bryce Hedstrom
While Bryce is a Spanish teacher, he works to ensure that materials are available in a variety of languages!
Stephen Krashen
Krashen makes as much of his research available for FREE as possible!
Todally Comprehensible Latin
Run by Keith Toda. This is a great place to get step by step walk throughs of activities.
TRPS for Chinese
Run by a variety of people and examples are given in Chinese, but I get a lot of activities and variations from this site!
La Maestra Loca
By Annabelle Allen. Spanish specific, but materials are applicable to all languages.
Fluency Matters Blog
Fluency Matters provides materials, publishes novellas, and sponsors the annual iFLT (International Forum on Language Teaching) Conference.
Hearts for Teaching Blog
By Laurie Clarcq, an experienced CI/TPRS teacher and trainer. Provides materials for activities, strategies, and support.
Terry Waltz
By Terry Waltz, an experienced CI teacher and trainer. Chinese specific, but materials and resources are applicable to all languages.
Spice Up Your Latin!
Shameless plug for my own blog.

Elsewhere online, there are plenty of social media groups and hashtags to follow. If you are on Facebook, join the CI Liftoff, IFLT/NTPRS, and Story Listening groups. These groups all have active userbases who are willing to answer your questions and provide materials and inspiration. If you are on Twitter, follow your favorite CI gurus! If you are already reading a CI blog, chances are the owner is also active on Twitter. Follow and participate in #langchat, a hashtag with which language teachers from all over discuss a different language teaching topic every week. Search #langchat on Twitter to check out previous topics.

The Internet can only teach you so much, so try to attend CI workshops and conferences when you can. IFLT (International Forum on Language Teaching) and TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) offer institutes every summer. In 2019, the National TPRS Conference will be in Chicago from July 8-12. Be sure to seek out CI-related presentations and workshops at language-specific conferences and at regional and national conferences like ACTFL. Many of these conferences offer sessions in which you can be the student in a CI classroom to see what CI is like from your students’ point of view. Last February, I attended a session with Terry Waltz and learned some Hawaiian, including some written characters! Have something to share? Give a CI-related presentation yourself!

Low, No, and Sub Activities:

It’s Monday. Or it’s Wednesday - and you have the worst headache. Or it’s Friday and you are worn out from being the enthusiastic language facilitator all week. THAT IS OKAY! We have all been there! Teaching with CI does not mean that you have to be on each and every day. And what about those days when you have a substitute?! Who will be the language expert then?! There are plenty of activities that provide input to your students and require little or no preparation.

Low-Prep Activities:
  • Draw, Discuss, Read
  • Dictations
  • Word Chunk Game
  • Either Or

No Prep Activities:
  • Invisibles
  • Star Student (Discipulus Illustris/La persona especial)
  • Free Voluntary Reading (FVR)
  • Calendar Talk

Sub Day Activities:
  • Cartoon Strip
  • 4-Word Picture Story
  • Pictionary Dictionary
  • Re-reading a story already known
    • True/False statements
    • Comprehension questions

Avoiding Burnout:

When you start teaching with CI, you are probably full of enthusiasm and ideas. But what do you do to maintain that momentum? Take some of the burden off of yourself! Again, go slow. You are learning to teach with CI, so you will have successes and make mistakes. You do not need to go full CI when you start. Afraid to let go of teaching explicit grammar? Find a balance! When I first started teaching with CI, it felt great that my students were so comfortable with Latin and had acquired so much vocabulary, but I was worried because by the end of Latin I they only had readings with verbs in the third person. Compare that to my own experience of learning Latin, when I was conjugating verbs in the present tense in all persons and numbers in the first week! My point is, you will feel like a failure at times, but a lot of teaching with CI is simply trusting that you are doing what is best for your students and their language acquisition.
Routines help. Many CI teachers (myself included) start class with Calendar Talk. Last year, my Latin I students knew when they entered my classroom to grab a whiteboard and a marker to write the date and weather in Latin. (The only downside to this was that I was going through dry erase markers like water - so writing in notebooks might work better for you!) Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) is a great way to give students input on a regular basis with no additional effort on your part. Other routines like Circling with Balls and Star Student help build community and serve as comfortable routines for you and your students. Many CI teachers have student jobs in the classroom, such as a brain break reminder, weather/calendar person, timer for the amount of time everyone is 100% in the target language, supplies distributer and/or collector, among others. Student jobs are a great way to relieve yourself of all the classroom responsibilities while also allowing your students to take responsibility for their classroom environment and build a sense of belonging.
Remember the value of low- and no-prep activities too. Just because an activity requires little preparation on your part does not mean that you are not providing valuable comprehensible input to your students and/or practice in the target language. Monday-friendly activities like dictations, TPR, pictionary dictionary, and 4-word picture stories have their place. Our students, like us, appreciate down time too.

Your CI journey will be filled with ups and downs, but remember to go at your own pace, seek out support, and be yourself! Some activities and procedures will suit your teaching style and others will not - and that is okay! Just remember that you and your students will have fun and enjoy the language acquisition experience much more than before!

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