Here are the reflections on a recent classroom observation by Bridget Webster, a middle school French teacher. Her heartfelt and keen observations will help to encourage teachers that are considering taking the plunge into Teaching with Comprehensible Input (TCI). Bridget has been teaching for three years and is relatively new to TCI. She devoted an entire day to observing my classroom and she, as well as her colleagues, stayed well after the school day to discuss what they had seen. Looks like she gets it.
Bridget has since implemented many strategies she saw, particularly the use of the “I don’t understand” and the “Slow down” signals. The part of her reflection that brought a tear to my eye was the request of one of her students: “Could you please tell the other teachers about the signal? It’s really helpful! This is the only class I understand.” The acquisition theories of Stephen Krashen and the methods developed and explained by Blaine Ray, Contee Seeley and so many others are responsible for these kinds of results. We classroom practitioners have the great fortune to hone our skills in using these gifts with our students every day. As Bridget’s student indicates, this kind of teaching needs to be applied in all of education. It would revolutionize our schools.
I apologize that it’s taken me this long to get back to you- I think it’s taken this long for me to begin to address what I learned while I was in your classroom! There are so many layers to being a language teacher who is actually providing comprehensible and exciting material for students- and I am so thankful that you took the time to help us get a little closer to mastering a layer!
I have taught French for three years at an IB middle school and played with TPRS a little bit. My supervising teacher introduced me to TPRS during my student teaching and I was able to play around with it and I realized that I had more fun and the students had more fun. I had yet to understand what consistency and actual comprehensible input actually did for students. All I knew, in my limited experience, was that there had to be more than a textbook and I abhorred using worksheets.
I attended the two sessions you offered at the iFLT conference in Saint Paul this summer on Classroom Management and Personalization. I went away from those sessions feeling like I could listen all day to the different activities and routines you have in your classroom. I implemented the “Special Person Interview,” “PAT” points and activities, and the “Participation/Interpersonal Skills Grading Scale.”
Obviously you can’t cram a day’s worth of lessons and procedures into an hour and a half- that’s impossible. When I watched the “Special Person Interview” in your classroom, so many lightbulbs went on! When students were all copying down notes on their classmate, I was astounded. It seems so simple and so amazing all at the same time! I implemented this concept when I returned to school and I love how students are enthralled in the details of each other’s lives in a way they weren’t before. It was also helpful for me to see how you followed the interests of the students- it was personalization at its best! My students now take notes on each other in their composition notebooks, back to front, like one of your interpreters explained to me. My students really are interested in writing down details in the target language about their classmates!
In reference to the “PAT” activities, I appreciated your explanation of the “Rice and Beans” game with the number chart. I’m not a numbers person and when I read about the number chart on your website, I was sceptical. In my mind, the last thing I wanted to look at was a chart, much less with numbers on it. All that changed when you shared the different things you do with numbers to help students learn how to use them in context. I have created my own number chart in French to use with students. It has revolutionized the use of numbers in my classroom!
On that same note, the way you use numbers in the classroom is inspiring! As teachers, we are required to reinforce skills students learn in math class and I was at a loss at how to do that before I visited your classes. With the Participation/Interpersonal Skills grading scale and students scoring themselves for each day and finding the average, I have found out how many students need the reinforcement of simple mathematical concepts- Concepts that I can actually help them with while staying in the target language!
Another helpful part of observing your classroom was seeing how the students advocated for themselves in regards to reading novels. I was floored, and super excited, when a student approached you after a silent reading session and asked if he could take the book home to read. THAT IS EVERY LANGUAGE ARTS/ENGLISH TEACHER’S DREAM! This revelation has been a slow one in coming to me but I think this comment is what made everything click. I realized, in a very true and applicable way, that students want to read. They want to read something that interests them and school doesn’t always cater to their interests. As a French teacher, I am frustrated by the lack of materials but am now more inspired to find a way to make sure my students have access to comprehensible and interesting reading material.
During a session of yours at iFLT, I remember seeing a map made for partner activities. I was so intrigued and loved the idea but was very unsure how to go about making such a feat happen in my classroom. It was helpful to see how you orchestrated the activity and provided a chance for students to get up and mingle with each other. I have since created two maps for partners in French and implemented one of them and my students have loved being able to use it! It gives them the power of choice while subliminally teaching geography.
Last and certainly not least, is the “I don’t understand” signal. To make things easier for myself, I made that signal and the “slow down” signal the same sign this year. When I asked how you get your students to use this, I loved your reply (because it’s what we do as teachers: repeat, repeat, and repeat)- “I remind them every day because they are not used to teachers caring about whether or not they understand.” Bryce- this has been one of the biggest game changers for me. I have been telling my students every day to use the signal because I can’t do my job if they aren’t understanding. Today, an 8th grade student (who has never been taught this way before) raised her hand and said, “Could you please tell the other teachers about the signal? It’s really helpful! This is the only class I understand.” As soon as she said that, the WHOLE class agreed and we had a conversation about how they appreciate the liberty of letting the teacher know they don’t understand. I think without personalization, we lose sight of the value of a student’s individual voice and they lose the power to advocate for their own learning.
I could go on and on about all the great things that I saw in your classroom. Some things that I want to implement but have not yet are: the secret word/password, color squares, silent sustained reading, and the classroom job that allows a student to give the other students a break and passes out candy to those who ask. The classroom jobs have changed my world- I can focus on the things only a person with my degree can do.
Thank you so much for your generosity in having us to your classroom and sharing your ideas and techniques! The time you invested in us that day has changed my career for the better- Merci beaucoup!
– Bridget Webster