What Can I Do To Improve My Grade?

It’s May 32, and in walks Enid, who has spent most of the year…not doing much Spanish. Boys, food, mojitos and especially good music and books have ensured that she knows three words of Spanish: quiero mas cerveza. Her question, of course, is Sr, what can I do to improve my grade? I really need to pass this class, also my parents will kill me. Jenn S. brought this up recently in C.I. Fight Club:

Today’s question: Can a kid “improve their grade at the last minute?
Answer: Yes…but it’s almost impossible.

You need to have clear performance expectations starting on Day 1. Mine– which are in my course outline, along with criteria– are that, by the end of the course (for Level 1), students will be able to

a. ask and answer simple questions, and describe things, in simple sentences.
b. write a 125-word paragraph describing a picture (or on a given topic) in 5 min.
c. write a 600-word story in 50 min.
d. read basic Spanish stories and demonstrate comprehension thereof
e. listen to aural Spanish and write down what is being said (eg a 10-sentence story)

During the year, we do reading, writing and listening assessments (see this), so the kids have a “sort of” idea about their grade. Every 10 days or so I add up their most recent marks, and they get a provisional grade.

I also tell them, you could– in theory– do nothing all year, and then crush the final. This is 99.9% unlikely to happen, though…please do not show up on May 32nd and ask for extra work to pull your grade up. That’s extra unpaid work for me.

However, I base my grade 100% on the final.

So, if Enid walks in and says “can I raise my grade,” I say, “Sure. The standards are in your course outline.” Enid just has to sit down and do the reading, writing and listening quizzes, and I’ll mark them (word count + grammar mark) and that will be her grade. 5 min of casual Spanish chat will show us Enid’s oral proficiency.

Now…what if she says “is there anything else I can do?” Here, there are two answers:

  1. Yes, pay me. $750 gets you a pass; $1000 gets you an A, small unmarked bills only, no Bitcoin.
  2. No. I taught, and provided you with specific activities to do to acquire Spanish. You either didn’t show up, or you didn’t pay attention.

If I get grief from parents or admins– which I don’t, because along the way I have phoned & emailed them about Baninder or Suzie not doing much– I show them my gradebook, which will generally have either zeros or INCs. Parents may argue, but when a kid hasn’t actually…done anything, the kid hasn’t got much of a leg to stand on.

The point is, at the end of the course, I am measuring performance (and to a certain extent proficiency). What counts is what you can do with no prep and no support. What doesn’t count: attendance, “attitude,” homework, binder organisation, note completion, role-play memorization, bla bla bla.

Your grade ultimately is not what you have done, but what you can now do.

What If I’m Stuck With the Text?

You went to IFLT or NTPRS, or you got a Terry Waltz or Wade Blevins workshop, whereby seemingly magically in 90 minutes you became able to understand and tell a simple story in Chinese or German or Cherokee.  You ran into Stephen Krashen at the Starbucks at the conference and bought him one of his trademark gigantic lattes. You’re all hopped up on BVP.  And your Blaine Ray workshop included a set of Look, I Can Talk! and man, is September ever looking fun!

And then it’s mid-August and the email comes from your Head, who says at the first defartment meeting, we will be discussing the grammar and vocabulary target piece across grade levels and classrooms, to ensure that all students in all classes have the same learning opportunities for standards-aligned assessment bla bla bla and suddenly you know exactly how Cinderella felt at 12:01 AM.  Because what the Head is saying is, we are all going to follow the textbook and have students write the same exam.  They might have gussied this up into fancier language, by saying “integrated performance assessment” instead of “unit,” “structures” instead of “vocabulary,” and “proficiency” instead of “marks” or whatever.  To you, however, it’s all lipstick on a pig.

Yes, this totally sucks, because as researcher Michael Long reminds us, the idea that what we teach is what they learn, and when we teach it is when they learn it is not just simplistic, it is wrong.  Language acquisition cannot be scheduled by teacher or text or testing requirements.  BUT…you are still stuck with District/Adminz/Headz who want everybody on the same team and so you are stuck with the text.  Preterite tense mastered by November!  Clothing unit assessment in January!  Numbers mastered on the 13th day!

Anyway, here in no real order are a few ideas about Dealing With The Text.  There are a few basic things that have to happen (other than you keeping your job): educating colleagues, actually effectively teaching a language, keeping the ignorami off your back, and getting kids through the test.

1. Colleagues have to be educated about what actually happens during S.L.A. and what actually works.  Bill VanPatten said these exact words to Eric Herman in 2016.  So, how?  Well…

a. Results.  Nothing, ever, will trump 5-min timed writes and story writes.  If you show at a dept meeting with crusher results, especially from “weaker” students, and/or from students who do not use notes or dictionaries during writing, the resident dinosaurs are going to have a very hard time arguing against C.I.  The C.I. kids will write more, and more fluently, and more interestingly.  Blaine Ray says as much.  Kids who get good C.I. in whatever form (targeted, untargeted, OWIs, stories, Movietalk, Picturetalk, reading) will in the long run outperform grammar kids.  Your colleagues who actually care about kids (as opposed to their own comfort, or keeping their workload low) will notice.

b. Bridge building.  The apparent weirdness (to a grammarian and/or textbook teacher) of comprehsnion-based instruction can be off-putting.  So show them good C.I. that they can do with the text, what I have called the “six bridges.” In my dept., most of my colleagues don’t do or “believe” in C.I.  But my department head likes Movietalk, Picturetalk and novel and story reading.  Some C.I. beats none.

Personal note: you can lead a horse to water, but… It is important to try to show people that (and, later, how) C.I. works, but a best-case scenario is that many listen, a few try, and fewer than that stick with C.I.  In my experience (and I have learned this the hard way), the most important thing is keeping doors open. If you have results, are nice, are open to talk…people will at least listen.

c. Assessment straight-talk.  Sarah Cottrell makes this point: if every teacher has to do the same test at end of year or whatever, the process of deciding on the test (format, material etc) should be obvious.  The only things I can say here are that a. the ACTFL guidelines are your friend.  The ACTFL guidelines do not say that grammar testing, verb tables etc are valid (or useful) assessment of students’ abilities.  b. whatever testing is done, it should primarily involve processing of meaningful whole language and spontaneous production of language.  Reading or listening to meaningful things, like stories and situationally-clear dialogues, and writing meaningful things (ditto) are useful.  Fill in the blanks, verb tables, etc, is not.  And whatever students are tested on should have been taught:   no “authentic resource decoding.” c. State/provincial standards are your friends.  No State or Provincial standard includes “fill in the blanks” as a communicative objective.

If the department/District/whatever decides on (say) a list of nouns and verbs or verb tenses or whatever, best practice will be to not assess these on a schedule.  There is not too much harm being done by asking that, say, all French 2s will know the passé composé, but this should be an end-of-year goal, rather than “by Unit 3 in November, students will ______.” We know acquisition is piecemeal and, as Bill VanPatten says, “unaffected by instructional intervention,” so it is important to provide a lot of varied input of vocab, grammar, “rules” etc over a looong time so kids can maximise their chances of picking it up.

2. For the textbook itself, rearrange order, ditch low-frequency vocabulary, and build simple routines to master boring stuff.  OK, here is how

a. Every text I have ever seen thinks weather, numbers, hellos, goodbyes, colours, location words etc matter.  If you must “cover” these, try this, and let your Dept Head/Amin know, I am doing this, but not in “unit” form, and here is how.  For example, the Spanish Textbook Avancemos Uno puts all of this into the Leccion preliminar…just spread it out throughout the year. This is something even a textbook teacher can get behind: less vocab? Yes please!

b. For low-frequency vocab (especially in programs organised around thematic/topical “units”), ditch the non-essential stuff.  Again, in Avancemos Uno Unidad 1 Leccion 1, some things are not worth spending time on (eg. descansar, andar en patineta (to rest, to skateboard) which are low-frequency vocabulary (not in top-1000 most-used words).  We are always better off spending more time on less vocab than less time on more vocab (and, as Susan Gross, said, shelter vocabulary, not grammar).

c. The daily opening routine is amazing prep for the kids in languages like Spanish where verb tenses are an issue.  One verbform per day = they will have solid understanding by end of year.

How to Grade Reading

Reading…our State and provincial standards say students should read. Therefore, we must grade reading. This is because, as we all know well, everything that can be counted matters, and everything that matters can be counted.

Here is a great question from CI Liftoff.

I have two things to say about this.

First, yes this is largely nonsense. Therefore, ignore it.

Second, here is how to grade reading. Note this: any assessment expert will tell you that there are only really three levels of proficiency:

3. Fully Meets Expectations: the job is done with only minor errors.
2. Minimaly Meets Expectations: the job is mostly done, with some significant mistakes.
1. Not Meeting Expectations: the job is not done, and/or has significant errors mistakes

In reading, the “mistakes” are comprehension errors, and “significant” means that these errors show that the student does not understand important sections– or the main idea– of the text.

Yes, you can split hairs and make a four-, five- or six-point rubric, but why bother? Kids don’t care, and feedback won’t help. Also, we don’t need to have more work.

So here is how to assess reading:
a. Assign reading that is 98% comprehended.
b. Have the students translate into L1.
c. Read their translation and assign 1/3, 2/3 or 3/3 according to the following rubric:

3. Fully Meets Expectations: everything comprehended with a few minor errors.
2. Minimaly Meets Expectations: mostly comprehended, with a few significant errors.
1. Not Meeting Expectations: not finished, and/or enough significant errors that the main messages are lost


You can also majorly speed things up by reading 3-5 sentences of their translation at random (ie you don’t have to read the entire same thing 30 times) 😊.

In my experience, reading (and listening) comprehension scores don’t vary that much among kids who have regularly attended class and done the very limited reading homework I assign. Scores for output tend to vary more.

If you are worried about copying, hand out two or three versions of the text and move two paragraphs (other than the opening one) around. It will be quite obvious who read and who got their buddy to help them out 😊😊.

Do not assess reading sentence-by-sentence, ie via Q&A. Why not? Well, how do you mark one sentence? What if the kid misunderstands the question? You might as well subdivide the ocean.

Do not mark for higher-level thinking (inferences etc) unless you are prepared for a staggering variety of acceptable answers. Yes, I just said that. Inference is complex in L1. In L2, things get even trickier. The literal and the figurative/thematic meanings of sentences also often conflict, bla bla. For me, the bottom line is, did the kid understand what was written? and by “understand” I mean can they tell me the literal meaning?

Super basic and super-effective

The more I do C.I., the more I am convinced that the basics– use as little vocabulary as possible, and recycle the crap out of it– are the most important. Thanks to Blaine Ray and me, here are some suggestions about more with less. I do all the following.

I’m adding a disclaimer: not all of these recommendations are 100% organic free-range communicative. Rather, they are designed to optimise input for students. When I ask “did you do your homework?” and a kid answers with “yeah,” this is an authentic and 100% appropriate communicative event…for the kid and I. For the rest of the class, not so much. It would be better if tyhe kids heard “I did my homework” or “No, I partied with my boyfriend” instead. More language, and more whole language. So…

1. All output should be in complete sentences. Yes, from Day 1.
If we are story-asking, we can
1. write the response on the board
2. use an actor who can answer
3. model the response. This we do with teacher as parallel character.

If we are doing PQA, Movietalk, Picturetalk etc, we ask either/or questions and we model both possible answers, and ideally we ask kids who can answer in complete sentences. For example, I’m showing a film where a cat hunts a mouse.

Clase, el gato caza el ratón. What does that mean?
— The cat hunts the mouse.
Correcto, clase: the cat hunts the mouse. Johnny, el gato caza. ¿Caza el ratón, o caza al Sr Stolz?
–Caza el ratón.

This takes a bit of practice, but it is effective: the class hears complete output, and the student has to process two whole sentences in order to answer. The trick here is to keep a really tight lid on the vocab (yes, you must target).

2. Have students– ideally, your fastest processors–describe la situación.”

This is where a kid describes what is happening so far in the story. They can describe either what is happening to the main character, or if they are a character, what is happening to themselves. This is a good way for another rep, and lets the egg-heads shine.

I pick my fast processors to do this. It seems like the kids listen more to an actor/class member doing a retell than they do to me 😂😂

This is a Blaine Ray idea and I love it.

3. For non-personal questions, model both possible answers in complete sentences in the question. Eg:

Ayer, ¿llovió mucho, o hizo sol? (yesterday, did it rain, or was it sunny?)
— Ayer, hizo sol. (It was sunny)

This provides good input for everyone, and when the kid answers, we get quality output again which again is good input for others.

4. For personal questions, ask the question, and model an answer using yourself first. Example:

¿Dónde comiste ayer, John? (Where did you eat yesterday, John?) This sets us up. Then we say
Yo comí en DcMonalds. ¿Comiste en DcMonalds? (I ate in DcMonalds. Did you eat in DcMonalds?) Here, John has an answer. He can say Sí comí en DcMonalds, or No, no comí en DcMonalds.

5. Ask me! This is another Blaine Ray idea. When doing PQA or talking to a character in a story, ask the actor/any student a question. Have them answer….then have them ask you back, then you answer. “Teacher-as-parallel-character” (another Blaine Ray idea) demands this. We do much as in #4, above, but the actor has to ask us also, thus:

Ayer, ¿tenías una cita con Miley Cyrus o con Selena Gómez?
— Tenía una cita con Selena. ¿Y tú?
Tenía una cita con Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

These are very simple, but hugely boost the quality of language in the classroom or on your Zoom meeting :-).


Make America Great Again Trumpers— MAGATs— are the redpilled. They are those who ignore the minstream media (MSM), and who do their own research. And by “research” we mean, I watched some Youtube videos.

These people are SO SMART that they see RIGHT THROUGH the liberal conspiracy to take our Constitutional right to not wear masks and turn us into socialist sheep. Sheep are people without guns.

Here is seven images is the story of a brave MAGAT, Richard Rose.

Slow Down Tools

Ben Slavic once wrote that “the single most-important skill in language teaching is going slowly,” and he’s right: audiologist Ray Hull responded to my inquiry about ideal language speeds with “[f]or an adolescent, spoken speech at around 135 words per minute is perfect for speech understanding, particularly when the student is learning a new language. So, 130 WPM may be even better. It will seem very slow to you, but the central auditory system of the student will appreciate it.” We should note that adult speech is about 170-180 wpm, so…no slow = no go for kids.

Linguist Bill VanPatten also added that clear “spaces” between words are useful, as the learner’s phonological and other systems need clarity.

People speaking too quickly is always a problem for language learners in any context. Luckily, for input outside class, we now have some options.

YouTube has two useful features, both accessed through the gear icon. First, it can generate subtitles. Second, you can slow down the playback speed without changing the pitch. This is a feature I regularly use for learning tunes (because you can hear individual notes without the pitch dropping) and it works wonderfully for watching L2 video. Before COVID, when I occasionally used Spanish YouTube videos, I turned on subtitles and slowed to 80% speed and the kids were happy with that.

(Side note: as an English, Philosophy & Social Justice teacher, I have learned to always put on English subtitles in English-language films. All kids find adult speech too fast, and half of my kids in any class are ELLs who can process writing more easily than fast English speech)

If you watch Netflix through a Chrome browser, you can add the free Language Learning With Netflix extension. This has a whack of cool features. I have two faves:
a. two-language subtitles. I watch & listen in Spanish, read Spanish subtitles, and can read English subtitles when I don’t get the Spanish.
b. slowed playback. You watch the show at 70-90% of original speed (pitch stays the same) so the sound gets much clearer.

I find Spanish Spanish basically incomprehensible– it’s fast, it has slang that Mexicans don’t use, it uses vosotros— so I tried the slow-downer. And guess what? It wasn’t 90% speed or even 80% speed that worked. It was, yup, 70% of standard speed! That is where I could hear most of the words clearly.

Anyway, two good tricks.

PQA Without Output? Sure!

Image result for self conscious student"
We don’t want our kids to feel self-conscious…which is what speaking often does, especially for beginners.

Great question on CI Liftoff today: how do we do PQA without forcing output? Don’t students have to talk during PQA?

Yes, they do, but only to indicate comprehension. You could have them answer questions in English— which sometimes is a good idea, because that is the fastest way to know exactly how much they understand— but…but…but…it’s kinda cool to stay in the target language, right? Right? Sure!

So how do we do personalised questions and answers— PQA— with minimal output? Easy! But first, let us remind ourselves: science says, people do not need to speak the target language to acquire it. They need only understand the message. So teachers— those new to C.I., and those who have levels 1 and 2— need to ditch the kids-must-talk urge.

So what do we do? Easy. We use ourselves as models in PQA conversations.

Say I want to teach them the essential teen words “I can drive (a car)”. I will write on the board— with translation— puedo manejar un carro.

Then, I will say a few sentences, such as clase, ¿qué quiere decir “puedo manejar”? and “puedo manejar los Ferrari, pero no puedo manejar los Toyota Yaris.” I will do comprehension checks.

Then, I ask eg Granthi— who cannot shut up about cars— ¿puedes manejar? He will answer with or no. Then I ask, what did I just ask you? and he will (hopefully) say can you drive?

Now, we are all set. I am going to ask Granthi first— and then others— ¿puedes manejar?-type questions, restate answers, and talk about myself, like this:

Granthi, ¿puedes manejar bien?

Granthi, yo no puedo manejar bien. Tengo muchas multas (fines). ¿Tienes multas?

¿No? ¿No tienes multas? ¿Eres experto en manejar?

Bueno, eres experto en manejar. Yo no lo soy. ¿Qué manejas— un Mercedes o un Dodge Caravan?
un Mercedes.

Bueno— tú manejas un Mercedes…pero YO manejo un Ferrari.
ya whatever Mr Stolz I saw your Yaris in the parking lot.

¡Granthi! No es mi Yaris. Es el Yaris de mi novia, Angelina Jolie. Ella no maneja el Yaris porque ella maneja mi Ferrari.
ya whatever she’s rich why would she even HAVE a Yaris?

¡Granthi! Ang tiene un Yaris para disfraz (disguise). Es muy famosa. A veces, ella maneja su Yaris.

All we have to do is ask questions, have kids provide answers, and we model “proper”— ie more complex— answers by comparing ourselves (or other students, such as native speakers) with students.

So…do we need output other than yes, no or one-word answers? Nope…and kids will acquire just fine.

Nothing But Stories

How well should students be able to write in the L2+ after 300 hrs of class? It depends what they do. The more time they spend listening to and reading comprehensible input, the better a grasp of the L2+ they will have, and that, depending on the individual, will enable them to write and speak a bunch.

If, on the other hand, they do practice dialogues, grammar worksheets and so on, they won’t do as well as kids who get lots of C.I.

Today, I’m sharing my 3rd year Spanish student Gursher’s final story. He did this in 50 min, without notes or dictionary. He has never seen a worksheet and he couldn’t tell you what a verb conjugation or boot verbs are. He has never “reflected on his learning,” or done “goal setting” for Spanish, or revised a Spanish portfolio, or any other conscious-learning blather. All he has ever gotten was lots of C.I.

Most interestingly, although he was in Spanish 3, I never gave him any Spanish-3specific work. He just hung out, did PQA and stories and Movietalks and whatever random babbling I managed, along with the 2s. So what, exactly, did he “learn”?

What he learned was, he got way better at Spanish. You will note teacher-geek qualities such as subj-verb and adjective agreement etc. And he got better at it just by being in class. This is something Blaine and Von Ray noticed some years ago: the greatest beneficiaries of mixed-level classes are the advanced kids, who seem to soak up “better grammar” (and some vocab from whatever they are reading that the lower-level kids aren’t reading).

This is the final writing assignment. Kids had 50 min. No notes, no dictionary. We will let the evidence for C.I.’s effectiveness speak for itself.

Story Listening? Oh yea!

Dr Beniko Mason.

This post encourages you to try Story Listening, and responds to objections to it.

Story Listening— SL— is a comprehensible input teaching technique developed by Beniko Mason, who taught English to Japanese Uni students, many of whom had failed first-year Uni English. Mason’s students— the “bad” ones— consistently outperformed their traditionally-taught peers, in many cases acquiring twice as quickly as other students.

SL is very simple. The teacher tells a story (ideally, a folktale or something from literature) in the target language and illustrates it on the board by drawing pictures, writing key words, using arrows etc. The teacher can translate and answer any student questions. When this is done, students read the story. Some teachers have students write an summary of the story in their L1. The SL program is supplemented with as much free-choice reading as students have time for. There is no “accountability piece”: the work is done in class, there are few or no quizzes, and students’ homework— should they choose to do it—- is just…reading!

SL does not involve homework, output, grammar (or other) “practice,” grammar instruction (other than the teacher answering student questions). The instructional sequence moves from shorter, simpler stories to longer and more complex ones.

SL is a “pure input” technique, and it works. Read the research here.

Story Listening has many advantages over textbook instruction, and it’s a wonderful complement o TPRS-style stories, etc:

  • In my experience, it’s effective, easy and fun, and I regularly use it.
  • It’s also low-prep, and you can use the stories on the https://storiesfirst.org website for free (you need an email to sign up). This is the least expensive SL method there is.
  • It’s low prep.
  • It generally avoids controversy, because it focuses on folktales and literature, rather than news or teachers’ experiences. People whose students have religious parents will very much appreciate this
  • It is a way for teachers to maintain their target-language skills. SL uses actual real folktales, or abbreviated literary works, so teachers are being exposed to non-learner-focused language.

Here in North America, lots of us want to use SL in our classes. But there are some biiig differences between Mason’s teaching and research context, and those of eg most North American teachers. These differences (in my experience— your mileage may vary) may pose challenges. The differences between Japan and North America— and objections to SL— include

  • Mason’s research does not look at pure beginners.
  • Mason’s students tend to be 19 and up.
  • The Japanese school system is very big on “sit, listen and learn.” In Canada and the US, uh, not so much 😜
  • English is a fairly phonetic language (unlike say Chinese).
  • Neither Mason nor her students have to be “accountable” to anything stupid, such as a set of textbook exercises, or a set of dumb and scheduled exams, etc. They get one big comprehension & writing test at the end of the course.

There have also been other comments. Here are some.

Today’s question: how do we deal with these problems and objections? Answers follow.

1. SL hasn’t been studied/tried with pure beginners. Sure. So, I don’t start with story listening until kids have had about 40 hrs of L2 input. This is enough time for them to implicitly understand sweet 16 verbs, basic sentence & question structure, and some high-freq vocab. This is the platform onto which SL builds a bigger language stack.

The idea is that a basic gut feel for the language will make adding new words easier by reducing the processing load. To illustrate processing load challenges, here are two German sentences:

1. Mark hat einen Fisch.

2. Mark ist gestern nach Hamburg mit seinem Kumpel gegangen.

You could probably figure that the first sentence means Mark has a fish. The only really new word is einen. So it’s 25% unfamiliar.

In the second— which has the two obvious words Mark and Hamburg— you have 6 totally new words, and you might have guessed that ist means “is.” So this is 66% unfamiliar words. We also have some weird word order. That sentence literally translates as “Mark is yesterday to Hamburg with his buddy gone.” Sooo…when the new-word ratio is low, we have much easier processing

There are teachers who start SL with beginners. You can talk to them (and to Beniko Mason) on Facebook here. Kathrin Schechtman is doing her PhD dissertation on SL: she began German in Sept 2019 with a class of pure beginners (elementary kids) and tracked their progress until Covid-189 hit in March. You can watch her videos here.

2. Mason’s students are older, and have been trained to sit, listen and be quiet. Sure! So, we do a few shorter stories instead of one long one in a class. Or, we do SL for part of a class only. We have brain breaks! We do some PQA when a story is done (point to board, and ask basic questions). We can add PQA to the story. No, these modifications of Mason’s method are not ideal, but we do what works in our context.

Mason has correctly commented that anything other than C.I. isn’t helping acquisition nearly as much as does pure C.I. However, our objectives may well include generating output (for admin/observation & teacher eval purposes), and they will certainly include classroom management. So we might well have to mix other things in to SL.

3. English is fairly phonetic, so SL won’t work for non-phonetic languages. True. For F.P.I.G.S. teachers, SL works (in part) because literate L1 learners can read (and there are cognates). SL will not work for eg English L1s acquiring say Chinese. You can’t read a Chinese character, sound it out, and map that sound onto your understanding of spoken Chinese, at least not until you are at a very advanced level.

If you taught eg Thai, Hebrew or Hindi— non-Roman alphabetic languages— to English L1s, you would want to ensure a massive amount of vocab-limited input (aural and written) before you started SL, and people would have to be able to read. If ppl cannot read the board, they have problems, because the word-sound-meaning matches we need for acquisition aren’t there.

4. There is no “visible accountability”— i.e. there’s no evidence the students are “doing anything” with the language— in a SL class. This is a problem for teachers being observed/tied to a specific curriculum.

If you are tied to a stupid textbook sequence, and/or have dumb grammar-focused exams, SL is not going to work that well.

If you are being observed, and your observer doesn’t understand SLA, I would do something other than SL (unless observer has an open mind 🤣🤣). If they do understand SLA, we tell them this is CI delivery, followed up with reading, and we could— during the reading phase— ask some questions to keep kids visibly focused.

If you must occasionally have kids show output, I would do some TPRS-style stories, and make (and write up) OWI stories. Especially in Levels 1 and 2, these will give kids the simple language chunks they need to throw down some stories or descriptions.

5. There is “no assessment of any kind.” This is not true. Although Mason, with her college students, can avoid tests etc until the final, we can easily do tests to assess comprehension. You can do a dictation to assess listening. You can also have students either summarise or translate the written version of the story. This can generate two marks/week.

My experience with Story Listening was at a demo with Mason herself, who told a very short story in Japanese to us. She wrote the Japanese words with Roman letters. None of us knew any Japanese. I was lost within two minutes, because I saw pictures, and heard and read words, but they didn’t go together. I got the gist of the story but found the language hard to follow.

When she was done, I counted about 25 words. I could follow the story via pictures and I learned a couple of words— ojo (princess) and shinrin (forest)— but I would not have been able to read a Roman-alphabet version of the story. Japanese has weird word-order and question “rules” and few cognates.

From this I concluded that SL would work best if students had some base knowledge. This would focus mental energy on new stuff, rather than having to focus on everything new all at once, and it is why I start SL with my Spanish classes after the kids have had 40 or so hours of input.

Anyway, overall, Story Listening is fun, effective, low-prep, and low-cost, and is therefore well worth learning and using. 😁😁

What is my C.I. Workload?

Recently somebody asked how do I reduce my marking load? This is a crucial question. Anyone who is overloaded/tired makes poorer, short term choices (and is functionally less intelligent than) the non-overloaded.

Blaine Ray once joked that TPRS was developed partly to improve his golf game. There is a solid kernel of truth here: when teachers have family lives, hobbies and rest, they are much better focused in class. Same for kids!

So…here is a look at the workload in Spanish 1 to offer people perspective.

Background: my language teaching is about 50% classical TPRS. On top of that, we have Movietalk, Picturetalk, opening routine, Story Listening, zero-prep activities and of course reading (and I use OWIs in TPRS-style stories). I more or less base everything around a story cycle.

I also want to spend as little time as possible testing and marking (these take away input time, and are boring).

The Marking Workload

I deliver C.I. for 75 min/day for a total of 6 hrs/week for five months per year. My testing includes

• one or two 5-7 sentence-story listening quizzes per story cycle (about teo weeks). I read a 5-7 sentence story aloud, sentence by sentence, the kids copy them down, then translate into English.

• one reading assessment per story cycle. Here, kids translate any of the following: a short story (using recent story vocab), a Wooly story, sentences from the novel we are reading, or I upload a class story to Textivate and use that.

• At the end of every story cycle, we test writing. First, kids have 5 min. to describe a picture. Second, they have between 15 and 50 min. (depending on grade & time during semester) to write a story.

It takes me about 15 min/block to mark & enter quizzes, so 30-45 min every two weeks for quizzes (faster if it’s Textivate or I’m using Wooly for listening).

5-min writes = 15 min/class to read & enter.

Stories take about 40 min (you don’t have to read all of each story— reading 5 random sentences will give you a very accurate picture of their writing).

So 95 min biweekly of work.

Marking load per block per week: 45 min.

The Preparation Workload

I have a vague idea pre-story what vocab (usually verbs, adverbs and prepositions) I want in each story. So prep is zero.

Once a story is asked, I type it up (15 min), look for & cue up some Movetalks (5 min), look for & load pics for Picturetalks (5 min) and type up the most recent bits from the Soap Opera (10 min). So the prep takes 35 min/two weeks = 20 min/week.

So Spanish workload = 1 hr 5 min per block per week outside of class time.

This seems to be a bit lower than the workload in English, about comparable to Philosophy, and much higher than for guitar. One thing is for sure: I get waaaaaay better results, have much more fun (as do the kids), and work a lot less than I did when I used the textbook.

In other words, as research shows, C.I. is not just fun and effective, it’s efficient! 😁😁

So…what did I do to reduce marking?

  1. I stopped giving out & marking stupid cahier/cuaderno homework.
  2. I stopped planning “activities.” C.I. stuff delivers everything we need to acquire language.
  3. I ditched huge projects. Output and translate-into-TL don’t do much for acquisition.
  4. I got rid of most electronics. I’m too lazy to plan QR-code this and Quizlet that. A flashcard on a smartphone is still a flashcard.
  5. I stopped giving stupid “unit exams” complete with multiple-guess questions which took forever to mark.