Lying About What They Do

In their efforts to show that they are in line with the research and the buzz word of the day, CI , there are many language departments now claiming – innaccurately – that they do CI, and it’s getting worse daily.

They are straddling centuries. They have one foot in the last century and one in the current century, but the weight of their stance is on the one in the last century. They are thinking about leaning forward but the way they are standing reveals their real position.

They’re hesitant to act, so they talk. They talk the CI talk but they don’t walk the walk. They need to dig much deeper with CI, and challenge themselves more.

Here is just one example of a school’s promotional video – sent to me by Sarah – in which they say that they “do” CI but there are many giveaways in the video that they don’t:

My reasons for saying they are lying:

  1. The students are in small classes. So I would ask, “Is this really a CI program? Real CI programs usually have packed classes of 25 or more students in them because as the kids continue through the program, they experience success and want to continue. These kids are clearly in there for the college admissions process. Real CI programs have huge classes.
  2. This looks like some of my AP classes from 30 years ago. (I once had an AP French Literature class with two rich white kids in it.) One thing we know about properly run CI classes is that they protect and support and guarantee equity. Maybe this is just an all-white school…).
  3. All I can offer as a response to their claim at 00:05 that they offer a “culturally authentic immersion experience” is: “Really?”
  4. At 00:15 to 00:30 into the video, they say that the students “will be able to communicate in the target language for meaningful purposes”. Again, I ask, “Really?” I don’t see any kids or teachers for that matter doing that in the video.
  5. At 26:00 the kids are getting ready to take notes in their notebooks. That cannot possibly be a CI class.
  6. The kids at 00:43 are grouped, working out of a book. No comment.
  7. At 00:47 the statement is made that the teachers abide by ACTFL’s 90% target language position statement “beginning in level I”. I tried doing that for about 15 years when I was doing TPRS. I tried and tried and almost tore my hair out trying. I finally gave up and went to about 50% – 70% TL. I wasn’t able to do the 90%. I don’t think anyone can. I think ACTFL should fess up and take their stupid position statement down. I will say one thing – the kids in this video are not in the TL 90% of the time, not even close. Just look at the video.
  8. The physical distance between the kids and the teachers is remarkable. Where are kids doing jobs? Where are the acting stools? Where is the communication?
  9. At 00:49 the kids are doing TPR. Meaningful communication? Really? They’re not even into it. The teacher is faking it. We’ve all faked it. TPR is fakey. Why not just talk to our students instead of waving our hands around the room or walking to the door and back? I comment more on how useless TPR here: – see point 17.
  10. At 00:57 the narrator says that they have “identified proficiency targets” for the end of every course. That means that they are teaching to the test and therefore cannot possibly be aligning with the research, esp. Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis which states clearly that individuals acquire languages at different rates, and don’t all arrive at the same level of proficiency at the same time. When are we going to accept that the research does not support the identification of “proficiency targets”?
  11. At 1:03 it says with obvious pride that “performance-based benchmark assessments” are administered. I would not be proud of that – it flies in the face of the research!
  12. At 1:10 it says that “our curriculum is based on culturally authentic and engaging thematic units of study”, while a teacher is looking at some written information with a high achiever. Engaging thematic units? Since when are thematic units engaging? Thematic units are not engaging. Thematic units do not lend themselves to comprehensible input instruction. We’ve talked here for years and years about the dangers of thematic unit language instruction as being simply unable to effectuate serious comprehensible input instruction.
  13. Look at the expression on the kid’s face at 1:15. Am I the only one who wants to weep when seeing that? The kid is not engaged. He is trapped and waiting for the bell.
  14. Pause the video at 1:22. There is no CI happening there. At the very point in the video where they claim that they strive to bring CI into “every class”, the kids are doing worksheets.



15 thoughts on “Lying About What They Do”

  1. IB programs may be the worst. Visit one. If there is a kind of militaristic feeling in the classroom where kids were taking notes and memorizing then that’s not CI. Real CI classes are easy to spot – the kids are laughing and having fun and not taking notes. They are not worried about learning certain words because their knowledgeable CI teachers protect them from that – their students are allowed to listen to all of the language and in that way learn, well, all of the language.

  2. As a department chair for years that has been trying to build a CI department, I will say that pretty much any department that tries to go CI (I think middle school has more success) is going to end up being a hybrid department. I have made peace with this myself.

    In Illinois there is a teacher shortage and it’s hard enough to get a certified teacher to fill positions, much less someone who is willing to put in the time to learn CI.

    My school administration understands the research but the parents want “Dual Credit” classes to be competitive. These depend on a local university (basically our teacher is on their faculty as well) who teaches with a textbook.

    I’ve been successful in implementing CI in my classes and one or two of my colleagues in levels 1 and 2, but for the Honors program and the upper levels the expectations of AP, Dual Credit, College, etc run everything.

    There’s another local school that I know of that mandated CI, to the point of actually firing teachers who were not compliant. Some of the teachers that they have there now don’t really believe in CI and just do it to keep their job. I myself wouldn’t want to take this approach, I think bad “CI” can be more damaging than the textbook.

    Other teachers are not interested in trying the Invisibles because they don’t want to put in the work to read your books or try it out. The Invisibles makes your life easier, but let’s be realistic- you do have to put in the time to learn the fundamental skills to make yourself comprehensible.

    It’s a tricky situation really.

  3. Greg said:

    …I think bad “CI” can be more damaging than the textbook….

    Agreed. And CI is only bad when the CI is not comprehensible. Such a simple fix!

  4. We can’t blame teachers living in the mind/textbook world of language analysis if that’s all they have ever known and if that is how they themselves were taught. They are mechanics and have so much support from the corporations. It’s so easy for them.

    But now the profession is diving into far deeper waters, the waters of the heart, really, where human communication can’t be made into a robotic process.

    So Greg when you talk about the teacher shortage there in Illinois it’s so sad. The kids aren’t going to get what they need to make them like the language and feel confident about their ability to learn it. I hear the resignation in what you’ve written.

  5. I will be starting CI with my Grade 9 classes next year. It took me almost 3 months to read the Big CI Book. I didn’t get it at all for the first while, but I kept reading. I watched YouTube videos when I had a spare 4 minutes. It all makes sense to me now. I hated teaching with the textbook, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. Some students liked it, a lot didn’t. It takes a bit of time to understand the approach and the skills and strategies, but it’s going to be worth it. I really think it will make my life easier and French more accessible to more students. P.S. I am the French department, so I get to do what I want! Yay!

    1. Hi Jolynne! Sounds like you are making the right moves as you switch to CI teaching. My advice: don’t overload yourself in trying out lots of new things all at once. Take little steps. They’re more meaningful that way, and you get to feel if your students are following your lead or not. That was my big mistake when I started with CI 7 years ago.

  6. Thanks for sharing Jolynne. We used to call these reports from the field, but haven’t done them in awhile. We need to get back into doing that so group members can know each other, so please send me an email if you are new or if you’ve been in the group for a long time and briefly describe yourself.

    Search “Report from the Field” in the search bar for examples from the past. In that way, if we know each other better, we can support each other in the fall here in the PLC better and make CI work for them. Bring your questions about CI here.

    I very much appreciate the candor, Jolynne. It makes sense that it wouldn’t be easy to just change over to CI. I forgot that it too me eight years to grasp it, from 2000-2008, and that was with the best teacher of them all during those years – Susan Gross. Keep us posted how it goes in the fall.

  7. So glad that you discussed that CI will take time. It helps put it into perceptive un peu. I’m thinking many teachers are just overwhelmed and thus go back to traditional teaching.

  8. Your second sentence above is right on point. That’s what happens. It took me eight years, during which I was writing books about it and still not really knowing what the hell I was doing. But I think that was bc it was TPRS, which in an email I got from a colleague in Europe yesterday who has now discovered my natural approach books (ANATS and ANATTY and the Invisibles), says about TPRS:

    I have tried TPRS but if found it very demanding and artificial. I dropped it after 6 months….

  9. I kind of need to say something here that I don’t think even long time PLC members may be aware of. I don’t do TPRS. I do CI – my own version of it. People have adapted it in various ways and claim to be leaders with what I have invented. That’s fine. That’s what I did with Blaine’s work and I owe him an unpayable debt of gratitude.

    But what works for the TPRS people doesn’t work for me, so in my 24/7 approach to thinking about (more like banging my head against the wall) best practices in teaching over the past four decades, I can now say that I have found and developed into a system since 2015 – the four books in the “natural approach” trilogy – something that totally works for me.

    I don’t to TPRS. I echo what my European colleague said to me yesterday, which bears repeating many times:

    …I have tried TPRS but if found it very demanding and artificial. I dropped it after 6 months….

    If you find yourself talking to others, or maybe you can use social media for this purpose (I don’t do social media because of a bad experience), please straighten people out on this. I would be very grateful if you did that.

    And yes, I think my way of doing CI – the matchless Invisibles as expressed best in my last two brand new books – is the best:

  10. I have to say that almost any time I try to feed my students a story. Target structures, or make them look at a map or something like that it does feel like I’m banging my head against the wall. Any time I’m directing the formation of a story, talking about characters or just reading with them were we’re both facing the language it feels right.

  11. It’s all here:

    The main thing is that non-targeted just feels right. But most CI teachers aren’t able to break the shackles of existing, list-governed curriculums. They don’t reflect deeply enough that those curriculums conflict 100% with the research. And all so that their students can – via CI – “learn” certain words in a forced way in a certain month for a test vs. letting it happen naturally. Why not use NTCI?

    When you use non-targeted CI, the kids will acquire the words ANYWAY, just at a different pace, maybe not when you and your departmental colleagues want them to, but when their brains want to. This is  in keeping with Krashen’s Natural Order of Acquisition Hypothesis. BUT it will be so much deeper acquisition. Why not do that? If kids are not having fun, then the prime ingredient for success in a CI classroom is missing.

    Don’t use the “I have to align with the curriculum/textbook in my department…’ argument. Are you really going to eschew the research in favor of “doing it the way it’s always been done”. I’m going to keep saying it – if you try to tie the CI instruction in your classroom to a high frequency verb/word list, a thematic unit list, a semantic set from a chapter in a book, a list of words taken from a chapter book, etc. then your students will be much more bored than they need to be.

    I’ve been saying this for a long time and I won’t change how I interpret the research. I even created an approach (the Invisibles) that is entirely based on the research (on non-targeted CI) and has shown itself to work far better than linking CI to a curriculum based on learning lists of words. OK, rant over.

  12. You hit the nail on the head that there’s a breaking that needs to occur. We’ve been trained to have things neatly compartmentalized and planned out. We have our grammar activities, then our vocabulary, then our culture, etc. etc. We all have to ask ourselves whether what we’re doing and HOW we’re doing it is the best way for students instead of how we were taught. We were the .03% of people in our classrooms who were fascinated with words and grammar. In that way, we’re only teaching to that tiny contingent. Teaching that way also reinforces the mindset that only a few will care and “get it” in their class. The rest are left to struggle reinforcing the mindset in themselves that languages just aren’t their thing, when in fact, it’s everyone’s thing. It’s a human thing!

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