Where will the CI community be in 100 years?

Will we be playing a 22nd century version of online games with our students, or will we have learned to have deeper, more humane face-to-face conversations with students?

So much about my teaching has changed since I started writing this blog. When I first started TPRS I felt like my biggest weakness was a lack of resources, above all a lack of interesting stories. The blog was a place to share those lessons with other new teachers. Nowadays the Invisibles have led me to tap deeply into my students´ imaginations and I barely ever use pre-made stories. Almost everything (in beginner as well as advanced levels) is generated from what the students indicate that they want to say, so a huge portion of my blog is simply a relic of how I used to teach. It is not a bad way of teaching… it is just not where I am currently at. I have been trying to write a post about this, but it is so big that every time I get started I see that I need to grow just a little more to really describe how my teaching is changing.

Teaching in a high-poverty district, I understand the desire to impose some structure. Especially with students who appear to be dangerously lacking structure in other parts of their lives (whether it be due to poverty or absent parenting or whatever), but I am trying to move away from the impression that language class is any work at all. For me it started with FVR and Krashen pointing out that any sense of accountability will ruin the experience of pleasure reading. It took a while to fully assimilate that insight into my real classroom practices, but now I am finally at the point that my kids come to class and curl up with a novel before any talking begins and I think that is just so cool. I finally got the heritage speaker girl who always used to skip my last period class to come and I don´t want her to regret it. I want kids to bring that perspective to every part of my class, just curl up and enjoy the experience.

I have not even been pushing the self-assessments based on the interpersonal skills rubric. I abandoned it because I hated going through them and having to figure out which students are “playing the game”, which students are being honest, which students “deserve” to earn a low grade. To my thinking there are less coercive ways that take longer, because they require me to deepen my relationship with some kid who has adopted a deeply hostile posture towards schooling. I just want to suspend it all, all of the grading and monitoring, even the self-assessments, and take one of the comfy chairs myself and enjoy chatting in Spanish with them.

Teachers new to TPRS/CI often ask about testing (not to be confused with the formative assessments that we do every 20 seconds while interacting with students). “What is in your grade book?”, they ask me. Ironically if you ask the people who are conducting CI workshops around the country, many will privately admit that they do not really spend time on testing. At all. Replace all of your testing time with more comprehensible input and you will be amazed at the gains your students will achieve. That is not just the result of more time being exposed to comprehensible input; that is also the result of a more playful, less judgmental classroom.

I am not alone here either… last summer on a CI teacher Facebook group someone posed the question about what you would like to change in your class, if you could. Overwhelmingly all sorts of teachers, from those that meticulously backward plan their lessons to people like me who let it emerge without planning, nearly everyone wanted to be rid of grading. Languages are acquired naturally in a low-stress environment; most of the assessment in my class is invisible to students, it is collected non-stop and used at the moment it is collected to shape my teaching in that moment. The district-required midterm exam for my classes is a class story that we create during the exam, and nobody even gets a paper until we have verified that everyone is ready. For day to day grades, I am feeling good with the One Word Images (OWIs) and stories created based on OWIs, followed by a simple exit quiz that is so easy that it is kind of a joke. Just enough to keep their attention in class, but also a kind of wink that tells them that I really don´t care about that grading crap.


  1. HI Mike. Awesome post. I think that when we move more and more into that warm happy place within ourselves, the kids know it. There is less need to measure because the engagement is wicked high with the invisible as well as OWI. All we want is to let kids know that there is an adult that cares for them. Will that still exist 100 years from now? Is that too much to ask in this ever-disconnected world?

  2. Mike, you’re helping move us to the next step, one free(r) of explicit reward and control. When I do try to write about this particular angle, I often find myself wheel-spinning and confused. And sometimes a bit unsure of the direction, even though I firmly believe it is the direction we need to go. The haziness of the route I think is due to the big contradictions between our traditional job role and the one we are heading toward, not to mention the fear of going down that foggy road with a bunch of angsty kids. I appreciate your willingness to venture out there and articulate your experiences.

  3. I love this post for so many reasons. I’m not where you are *yet*, but seem to be moving in that direction. Thanks for sharing all that you have over the years and for sharing your current journey.

  4. Hi Mike – I teach a section of Spanish I to 8th, 9th and 10th graders (mixed class). We just got a new student last week. There are 21 students in the class (big for my school), and we are deskless. We talk about the weekend on Mondays and Fridays, PQA, do little OWIs, did a few stories with targeted structures, did a Movie Talk of Alma for Halloween, read the first few chapters of BB Quiere un perro, and we talk and compare all these characters and read write ups about them. Because my school is small and private I too just use exit quizzes and 5 minute writings for grades.

    This year I have some 8th grade boys that are EXTRA immature – they spend much of their time in class trying to get attention and entertain the other kids in class, and though I use PAT time, side convos are a constant issue. They are the only three with low grades (Cs). They are known for being a particularly difficult group – happy people but no impulse control. I used the Interpersonal Grade for a few weeks, but except for 4 kids, the chatty folks are still doing well.

    I struggle with what my own threshold for happy noise should be. I am completely open to the fact that my classroom management skills may need improving – I pause and give the evil eye and the chatting girls apologize and stop right away, the 8th grade boy with the C stands up and dabs while I am writing on the board. I am seeing growth in them all, but would like a bit more calm and focus.

    This is my 4th year of CI and I am 110% committed to the method – I followed Ben’s PLC for two years, have read his Invisibles, follow your blogs and Bryce’s, listen to Carol’s webinars, went to NTPRS two summers ago, went to the Musicuentos backward planning seminar this summer, thinking I needed to be more purposeful in the language I introduce to the kids (but I haven’t stuck with it – now in my 4th year I see that the HF words come up when they come up because they ARE HF – and my new vocab introduction is minimal and more in context (though we love to play Sr. Wooly’s tres acciones and I gesture everything – it really helps).

    I was just ready to start Monday PQA of the weekend then with full on “structure” by teaching Brandon Brown, using a little readers theater on occasion and activities from the teacher’s guide, because they can’t seem to handle any transition. Then I read your post! What do you recommend – I would love to turn them into readers, and would love to do the Invisibles – any thoughts?

    1. It sounds like you are experiencing success, but perhaps you would be happier with firmer control. I have met great TPRS teachers who are warm and loving, but maintain an iron control of their classroom… perhaps Bryce, for example. I have also watched phenomenal TPRS teachers who had less control over their classes than I expected they would. When I have a kid who cannot stop distracting I stop class and sometimes have students take out their notebooks. In extreme cases I will reseat the kid to always sit next to me (ie, when I am up front, so is he; when I am at my desk, so is he). On the board I write a review of what we have done up to that point while everyone copies it in their notebook, followed by a choral translation. The students know I do that to refocus the class, whether I explicitly tell the chatterer or not.

      I have to say that the long game involves us sharing moments together. My guy this year that I have kept by my side muttered the word tortuga the other day in response to my fishing for details in a story. He had never said anything before and was just sitting there listlessly, I don´t even know where that tortuga came from, but I seized it as a great moment of hilarity and insisted that his tortuga make it into the story. When he smiled we re-enacted the moment in which he said “tortuga”, having another student play him, and it was funny. It created a class joke that was his, and I watched carefully to make sure he thought it was funny. I will have more problem days with him I am sure, but this was a big step forward. His former partner in crime (the kid he used to chat with) played the part of class artist the other day, and I think that was a turning point too. These moments surge forward naturally and, if I am not careful, they drift past without me noticing. I am at my best when I do notice.

      1. Thank you for your response (on a Sunday night!) and I think your suggestion is a great one. I will try it when I want to settle things down, and it will get the message across without “punishing” anyone in particular or having to remove anyone from class. I also suspect it is a matter of me coming to terms with what my style is, and I really appreciate you reinforcing that of course, we all have different styles and can still be effective. Mil gracias Mike!

  5. Wow!!! What you wrote in your post is where I, too, find myself. Thanks to you, Ben, Tina and a host of others, I confidently move forward in a truly student-centered classroom. Had I read this three years ago, I may have considered your words lunacy, two years ago interesting to ponder, a year ago on the fringe, and today, the curriculum.

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