Comprehensible input relies so heavily on student engagement and participation. Yes, sometimes it feels like you’re pulling teeth just trying to run simple speaking and listening activities in world language class. A teacher recently mentioned to me that student engagement was the hardest part about comprehensible input for her. Do you agree? Have you ever felt like that?
I know, I certainly have felt this way before. When you’re switching from traditional or legacy teaching to proficiency oriented methods, there’s a huge mindset shift.
Instead of being the lecturers – not in the creepy sense, but in the we are on stage and we are presenting information that our students are then absorbing and then demonstrating to us how much of it they have internalized.
What we’re actually doing in our classrooms, when we switch to a proficiency oriented mindset is we are looking for how much can students actually do with the language.
Read the post on student engagement or watch the video below:
Why Student Engagement Matters So Much in a CI Classroom
This is a fundamental shift. So of course, it relies heavily on student engagement. Because guess what? Your classroom is now the communicative event. You and your students now participate equally in the conversation. And on top of that, your classroom is now a community, which is what it was supposed to be the whole time.
The student teacher relationship has been off balance for a really long time. And that is also I would argue why school hasn’t worked for so many of our students for a long time. So rejoice! This is a great moment where your students get to take back ownership of the classroom.
That can be a really pie in the sky idea, though, right? Now we have the big vision of why this is happening. When you move into a proficiency oriented role in your classroom, you are transforming little by little.
Become the Language Facilitator Instead of the Guardian
It doesn’t happen overnight, but you are becoming the facilitator of communication in your classroom instead of the guardian of knowledge.
Instead of teaching your students about how the language works, you’re helping them to speak and communicate. So yeah, it relies a lot on student engagement and participation.
How to Set up Your World Language Class for More Student Engagement
Because how could you ever tell what they’re actually able to do with the language unless they participate?
So how can we make more student engagement happen?
Now we know what the vision looks like, and why it’s so exciting. For me, this is what sparked my fire for proficiency for me. Read more here about why I switched to comprehensible input.
Yeah, research is great. And you know me – I love research. But what really made this whole experience so magical in my classroom is what happens next.
When you become a language parent for your students
Here’s some of the cool stuff that starts to happen. You may be providing most of the language in class, but your focus is to try and make your words so enticing that students just cannot wait to respond to you.
What does that actually look like?
How to make students hang off your every word
It means that class is incredibly personal to them. Everything that you’re talking about, or everything that you present to them is hella interesting and has to do with them. Check out my favorite personalization technique here.
So you’re talking about them, or you’re talking about their classmates, or asking them about things that are happening right now, in this moment, in a really interesting way. Or you’re using language in a way that they need it in order to just even get around and maneuver in your classroom. That’s the whole point of the game.
Put these student conversation tips into action
So what are some specific ways that this happens in your classroom?
Here’s some notes that I think would really help you with this. Now we’re in the action phase here. Recently at the 2022 edition of Practical & Comprehensible (join the waitlist here for next year!) Amy Marshall presented about daily check-ins in the target language. Highly recommend! Because the really hard part that a lot of people run into with the pulling teeth feeling is that students are not here for it that day. Or we’re not properly reading the room for what’s going on, especially nowadays. So Amy Marshall has this really unique way of doing a check-in in the target language.
Check the Mood and Emotional Status of Your Students
That way, she’s able to read the room and figure out exactly how her students are feeling. Sometimes it takes five minutes, depending on how they’re feeling. And sometimes it takes 30 minutes, depending on how they’re feeling and how much they want to talk to her that day. There’s a huge amount of value in understanding that difference of, “today’s a day we’re gonna chat” and “today is not gonna happen” And that’s okay.
Being a Good Conversationalist in the Target Language Takes Practice
Another thing to take from this, too, is that there are phases and stages where things are going to flop. Maybe it means that you require a little more practice, but most likely, it means that like your students are just not on that day. And that’s not on you. So give yourself a lot of grace. Because this transition takes a long time from being the deliverer of knowledge to being a conversation partner. Well, that’s a huge jump, right? That’s a huge jump. So being a good conversationalist is like being interesting on a date. It takes some practice to actually be good at it.
Comprehensible Input Basics are Rooted in Empathy
Another great presentation was from Meg Vendel, Vernon, who gave a whole smorgasbord of basics for CI and how it relates to empathy in our classrooms. This is the exact question, right? She talked a lot about the need to square up. And that is the difference between standing in our teacher squareup at the board (a safe space), when you’re talking to students and asking for a response. Contrast it with squaring your shoulders and feet in front of them, facing them, closing the distance, looking them in the eyes and saying this phrase that I love: “I need your eyes”
She taught us the art of enticing them, imploring a response from them with all these things that you can do with your body language, to make sure that everybody is reeled into the conversation.
So those are two really specific things from presenters at this past year’s Practical and Comprehensible Conference.
Personalize Your World Language Class Activities
I would add that an important thing to remember is that personalization is the name of the game when it comes to engagement. There’s absolutely no shame in your journey of working through this in the L1 in order to get people comfortable.
Make sure that there’s a lot of good vibes and a lot of relationship building in your classroom first, if that’s what it takes in order to get magic to happen in the target language.
Ain’t no shame in that, because for a long time, I was transitional in my journey to becoming a facilitator or language parent. I repeat: it doesn’t just happen! Take small digestible steps.
Should You Use the Target Language or L1?
Depends. Until I was able to really do my students justice as a facilitator, I built a lot of my relationships in the L1, so that class was real warm and fuzzy.
And then when it was time to get down to business, I was pushing them in the target language. And guess what? They were wide open, like lil’ rainbows ready to talk to me.
So do what you need to do with the energy and the ability that you have right now to get the answers that you need from students for them to show up to your conversation because class is now conversation.
Plan your World Language Lessons with your Energy Levels in Mind
Now for the last and most crucial thing that I want you to remember. Keep balance in your schedule. A concrete way to think about this is to set time for a less intensive, less student centered lesson 1-2 times a week. These can be the days where you rely heavily on authentic texts and videos.
And you’re getting a little bit of responses from students, but mostly somebody else is giving most of the input in class for you. Somebody else is being that language parent for you. And students might be writing down their answers. And then you can set up an activity at the end, where they’re maybe talking to each other. They can practice when they feel comfortable, they’re raising their hands, and then giving you responses.
When to Push Conversational Skills with World Language Students
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with giving yourself some ebbs and flows. Start with a high energy prep day where you try and push conversational skills with students, maybe on Monday when you’re fresh. And then after that, on Tuesday, when you’re tired, watch a 20 minute video where you pause a lot and maybe do something along the lines of dig deep into culture for that. Then you can feel confident when you ask for student engagement and participation that it’s been prepped and optimized for everyone’s energy level.
Lesson Planning with Energy Management in World Language Class
That’s ebbs and flows. It is a journey, respect your journey and respect the energy that it takes to switch to this method that is so worth it.
But it is going to take more energy as you’re newer to these things.
In the practical proficiency network, we call it energy management in your lesson planning.
More Teaching Tools for World Language Teachers
Ready for more world language proficiency teacher tips? Comin’ right up! Check out the following posts and downloads:
Have you ever wished the transition to proficiency were easier to do? Grab the FREE toolkit here to learn the framework for updating your practice to comprehensible input – without all the overwhelm – and prepare for the challenges ahead.
In conclusion, getting student responses is not an easy fix in a world language classroom environment. There are so many factors at play, and even more reasons to work on that oh so crucial welcoming environment.
Some practical takeaways we talked about are to personalize lessons, mix up high energy and high volume speaking days with lessons where someone else is doing more of the speaking for you in class, and to put yourself out there with specific body language cues as much as you’re asking students to do.
Thanks for being here, and for being a part of this very special teaching community.
Rooting for you,