I’m New to CI: How Do I Get Started?

You’ve been to a workshop somewhere recently or had conversation with teacher friends.  You’ve done some reading and you are convinced that you want to either begin using Comprehensible Input as your philosophical framework for teaching Latin (or another second language) or you want to up your game in that regard.

“Where do I start?” I am often asked.

What to do

There are just a few things that you need to do.  Really.  Choose just a few strategies (activities, communicative tasks) that you will commit to doing over and over again this year.  I recommend that you find 2-3 blogs that you can follow–blogs of CI teachers who are talking about how they do these activities and tasks–and let them guide you to the few you will do over and over again this year.  If you are a Latin teacher, those blogs don’t have to be written by Latin teachers, but there are some good blogs that Latin CI teachers write which will help you zero in on a few CI strategies that you will do over and over again.  Check out the items in this blog, for example!  Check out Keith Toda’s blog, or Pomegranate Beginnings written by Miriam Patrick and Rachel Ash. Check out Dan Stoa’s Comprehensible Antiquity, Lance Piantaggini’s Magister P, or John Piazza’s site full of resources.  This is NOT an exhaustive list, but a way to help you get started.  Identify a few CI strategies that you will commit to using this year, and just keep doing them, strategies like: One Word Images, Movie Talks, Dictation, Read and Draw, Read, Draw and Discuss, Story Listening, CI Games like the Word Chunk Game or the Sex Game (Sex = Six in Latin so just stop it!), or Vinco; learn how to embed readings or create Communicative tasks.  Decide which strategies you will learn to do, and do them.  Do them again.  Keep doing them.  Do them with your textbook material, or with novellas or with other materials that you choose to use (or steal from others).

What to remember

Doing this work the first time (for the first year) won’t feel right.  It will feel awkward.  It will make you feel like you look incompetent. I can tell you that it is the right kind of work.  You are not awkward, and it doesn’t look incompetent.

It’s the right kind of work because it works for all kinds of learners.  It works the same way that learning your first language did only now you have some advantages of being able to think about what you are doing (so do your students) that you didn’t have as a baby.  Your brain and your students’ brains are hardwired to learn language this way, so trust that.  Teaching language this way removes language learning (and especially Latin learning) from the “elites only need apply” list.

You are not awkward–even when you feel like it.  You are not incompetent even when you feel like it.  What’s at play here is what you will need to do to teach in this framework and how that contradicts all of your inner images of what a Latin/language teacher looks like.  For example, your inner Latin teacher looks like someone declining a first declension noun on the board and explaining what cases are.  The CI Latin teacher asks students to draw pictures of what they like to play and a pet they have or would like to have.  The CI Latin teacher then begins to talk about student drawings with words like clavicordium, pedifolis, canis, feles and piscis–non of which are in the first declension.  The tension that goes on between watching students see and hear you talk about their pets and what they like to play in Latin and that inner Latin teacher who knows that they don’t know (yet) the different declensions and case usages can become intense at times.  The tension between what you are doing and your inner image of what you should be doing can make you feel awkward and incompetent.

You are neither.  You are helping students begin to acquire a second language, one that you love, and in a way that resonates with their brains.  Take your awkward, incompetent feeling self home each day and allow for a little interior applause for what you are doing.  Because, it works.

Let it be different

You are very likely going to hit a wall at some point.  By that I mean, you will come to a day when you feel like you just cannot do it anymore.  You are exhausted, or confused, or scared, or (fill in your own showstopper feelings).  That’s when you reach for something else.  The something else is NOT what you used to do.  That will only make you feel better, momentarily, and it will confuse your students.  Instead, reach for a CI strategy or activity or communicative task that will give you a little break.  Miriam Patrick has written about that at Pomegranate Beginnings called Monday Tips and Tricks.  So, you do one of those things to give yourself a break.  Maybe you do some of those things for a week to really give yourself a break.  In the meantime, you will find that your creative juices start to flow and you are ready to continue teaching with a CI framework using those very same few strategies, activities or communicative tasks that you committed to use over and over again.  Along the way of this year, don’t hesitate to reach out to other CI teachers for support and to share stories.  There are Facebook pages that support CI teachers:  Latin Best Practices, CI Lift Off, and others that you might want to check out if you don’t know them already. As one of the moderators for Latin Best Practices, I can tell you that if you share that you are struggling with something, you will be supported and get lots of helpful feedback.  Do that for yourself.  Allow yourself to be a learner even while remaining the Latin expert in the room.

You will arrive at the end of the year with a whole new perspective than you could have imagined when you started.  The only new agenda for the next year is to add just one or two additional CI strategies, activities or communicative tasks to what you have just spend a year doing, and when you do all those things again, you will have personal insight into how to make them better.

Bob Patrick

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