Solidify your skills

Even if you are a skilled CI teacher there is a good chance that you rely on a few favorite techniques to verify that your students comprehend what you are saying. Today I want to encourage you to broaden your reach and solidify your skills, because remaining comprehensible is everything.

This week’s challenge: download and print this reminder sheet about basic skills. There are four copies; tape them to different places in your classroom so that you see them frequently throughout your classes this week. These are the foundation skills and, with the exception of ‘Hallway True or False’, you should be doing each of these techniques several times per class. Don’t do them in order; just randomly put your finger on a skill and do it. Consciously work on using all of these techniques frequently throughout the week by referring to this reminder sheet in class.

I think you will find that this will slow down the conversation in your classes… which is a good thing!

If it helps, make a check mark next to each skill as you use it. Personally I would lose my pen quickly in the middle of class, but if you are an organized teacher then this may help you keep track to make sure you use all of the techniques.

Point and Pause sounds like a fairly self-explanatory skill, but I recommend that you go back and read the description of how we do this.

Each ‘Ask a — question’ deserves a separate check mark to make sure you are doing them all. If the ‘when’ question is not obvious, for example, ask it anyways and get the new information from your students! I describe this process in “Artful questions”, section 3 in the essay on Remaining Comprehensible.

When you write on the board it may be a complex word or phrase, but also use this technique to emphasize a point that is not using difficult language. The idea is to slow down conversation and focus student attention on an unexpected development in the class conversation. It could be as simple as discovering that your level 5 student does not like chocolate! “A Ellen no le gusta el chocolate“, I write as I digest this shocking piece of news. There is a good chance that, despite years of input, there is a student in class still acquiring the special way that the verb gustar is used in Spanish. I frequently meet Spanish teachers who forget the “a” in front of Ellen! Slowing down and writing it on the board will help them acquire.

The value of choral translations and choral responses are described in the essay on verifying comprehension. A choral translation does not have to be done with a long text; you can simply write a phrase on the board as you are speaking and say to your students (in the target language), “Everyone, let’s say this in English”, and then point to the words as your students translate. Every time they actively interact, you are pulling minds back into the class conversation.

You can develop a gesture for anything– absolutely anything! Take a look at section 4 in the remaining comprehensible essay and you’ll find a video by Grant Boulanger about the many gestures he uses to keep his students engaged in class. A gesture, however, does not have to be for a recurring high-frequency phrase. If the wolf licks the door in your class created story, create a gesture for wolves that lick doors and then have your students do that gesture as you retell the story. Too many gestures may feel absurd, but a few humorous gestures prevents students from daydreaming.

Finally I include “Hallway True or False” on the list of basic skills because it allows you to quickly summarize anything with lots of student feedback (scroll 2/3 down the page to find the video). Maybe your students will push back if you force them to do this everyday, but definitely try it at least once this week.