What CI is… and isn't.

You’ve probably heard (or even said) it. “I am having so much trouble with my classes since I tried CI. I am going to stop doing it.” Or maybe it was “CI is like a cult, I would never consider it.”

The problem is that CI means comprehensible input. Our options are: be comprehensible or be incomprehensible. What we mean in our frustration is that we aren’t finding success in techniques that we’ve learned and the textbook or curriculum we used in the past is looking really, really good.

The textbook for me, was a map. Honestly, and this is dating me, it is like a map I printed from MapQuest in 1999. It gave me one route to my destination and it did not account for any issues that might arise along the way. I sat in traffic many times because I didn’t know any other way to get somewhere.

Then came GPS. It was a fancy MapQuest. It read off the directions to you but still took you along one set route.

But GPS continued to evolve (like we do in our classroom practice) and now it is intuitive. When I put on Waze before I leave home, I choose my route but if there is a traffic jam or some other unforeseen circumstance, it re-routes me. Waze gets me where I need to go in the most efficient way.

CI can be story-telling, story asking, movie talks, authentic resources, readers for learners, units with targeted structures, units without targeted structures, units that reinforce a grammar point, units with music… You get it. If we can make the input comprehensible for our students, we are using CI.

Using a variety of input and not being trapped within the one or none map in the textbook helps us become Waze for our students. When the pieces aren’t fitting for them or they hit a road bump, we can come at the topic from another way. If they aren’t strong on a certain structure, we can put it on the back burner and return to it later when they’ve had some time to simmer in the language.

Often the route one group of students takes to acquiring language is completely different than the route of the class that follows them. Paying close attention to the cues coming from that internal GPS we have can help them stay on the path to becoming lifelong language learners.

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