When the “Test” is just more great CI–a best practice

As Department Chair, one of my duties is to observe the members of my department and add my observations to those of administrators who do the same.  (See my document on the Downloadables page on the GA Performance Standards and what they look like in a CI classroom).

I want to share what I just observed one of my Spanish colleagues, Mr. George Brennen, doing in his Spanish 3 class.  It is an extraordinarily good example of technically assessing students on “animals” but in such a way that the testing event itself becomes just the next good example of providing students with tons of comprehensible input that is both broad and deep.  I want to do what he did!

Here’s what he did.  He stood before the class holding three index cards of different colors.  Everything I saw him do was entirely in Spanish.  He asked the students to choose a color. They chose purple.  He then began calling the numbered item, and then describing in great detail the animal–it’s size, colors, where it is found geographically (with descriptions of those geographical regions), the countries it was found in, its relationship to human beings, and other animals, its habitat and behaviors.  Students were literally leaning forward, glued to every word.  I have a degree in Spanish.  My Spanish is very rusty, though I read it and often understand it fairly well.  I understood every word.  All the students had to do was write down the name of the animal.  He was on animal number 12 when I had to leave.

In one assessment (which, BTW, will be super easy to grade) students received tons of understandable messages about animals, colors, sizes, geography, climate, countries, behaviors, habitats and relationships.  This is brilliant!  Technically students took a test on animals.  I am without doubt that these students left with more acquired Spanish today then when they came in.

So, CI teachers of any language:  how can we devise strategies of both teaching with understandable messages and assessments which integrate and pull together all kinds of language material/themes/vocabulary that requires the students largely to listen and comprehend while only writing down a word or two?

This is going to be my own personal challenge for the week.  I have a unit on Roman virtues that I am about to start.  I am now aiming for that day when I can have long, broad and deep discussion with students describing a virtue. They listen and then write down the one word.

Bob Patrick