This is a repost from last spring:

Exploring the reasons behind the way things act (etiology) is a deep and magnificent process when applied to language acquisition. Have language teachers ever done this before? Have they ever explored the reasons why humans can speak, or would want to, in a language other than their first one?

Have they ever paddled around in the richness of it all before? Because we, yes, us, little old insane us in our insane buildings in these insane times (can anyone say Realidades?), are paddling around in the richness of the mud that spoken language in our classes is. Have language teachers ever, before now, thought of what they do as anything more than mental gymnastics for the intellectually privileged?

Have language teachers ever thought, until now, about how fun teaching a language can be? Have they ever laughed through an entire class and had that class be a rabbit hole into a second or third language for some surprised teenager who thought up to the point they walked into our classrooms that school was about thinking, not laughing?

The process we are in now is rich and full and provides our intellectual and emotional hands with thick rich mud to create in. It would need a poet like Gary Snyder or Dylan Thomas or that bad boy Art Rimbaud, some of those rich hands mud poets, to write about it. Why? It is because of the way we teach – swimming around in the rich mud of the language in the real way right there in our own classrooms.

We need rich mud to teach. Language is rich mud. It’s not paper thin, wafer thin, like they made it for the past 100 years, bless their hearts. And it’s not English either. If we use English in our classrooms then we aren’t swimming around in mud and we won’t know those joys.

Inclusion. Not exclusion. All the kids involved. A mud bath. A mud bath in the target language only. (English dries up the mud.)

Here is what the French say about conversation, which is what we do, even if our students have to use just one word answers to converse with us. Look at how rich this is, and how muddy in the best of ways:

“La conversation constitue un tissu langagier grâce auquel les membres d’une communauté non seulement communiquent quotidiennement, mais encore assurent leur appartenance au groupe. Par la conversation, l’individu construit sa face sociale…..”

“Conversation is made up of a linguistic tissue thanks to which the members of a community not only communicate on a daily basis, but also guarantee their membership in the group. Through conversation, the individual constructs his social place in the group…..”

Mud links water and plants and life together. Life grows in muck. Staying in the target language in class links people to the language in the real way, guaranteeing their place in the social group. When teachers speak about the joys that they experience when they teach in this muddy connected way, we see something we have not seen before in language education – people connected at the heart level by a language/tissue.

Do we know how it works? Can we see the process of language acquisition happen? No. It is beyond our reach. It is as clear as mud. And that’s a good thing. Again, we are not allowed to control certain things about life, and this is one of them. All we can do is deliver the CI and get over ourselves. And watch the water lilies grow, if we but speak to the kids in the TL.

What we are doing is so far from the data driven, pacing guide driven, grade driven yokes that are still around our necks, that those yokes will just slowly crack and break away in little pieces with each new attempt at a story we make, as long as our hearts are strong now when we are most tired, as we slough through the mud of April.



21 thoughts on “Mud”

  1. This is wonderful! So fun to be in the thick of it some days.. and other days floundering in it.. And other days just damn pulled down by it.. but still in it..
    I think we enjoy teaching using CI because we have realized the freedom and richness of MUD and the “others” are still scared to get their shoes dirty.

    I agree, beautifully written..

  2. If you fight the mud, or just put one foot in, it’s not rich and full and restorative, but annoying instead. Sometimes the mud scares me, but I’m really trying to work on silence, and wait time, and not getting nervous to allow a class of 27 kids to stare at me, waiting for one of these beings to formulate some thought during the silence (thank jGR for that possibility), some piece of the language that we can respond to.

  3. I’ve NOT been doing a good job of staying in TL at the beginning of this year. I’m a little worried I’m about to lose it. There have been so many disruptions and changes to the bell schedule, and at least two classes are particularly chatty/social this year. Feelin’ a little down about everything at the moment.

    1. I am in the same place as you. Today I even had the students write their goal as well as mine on their weekly paper. My goal is to speak 90% of the time in Spanish. I told them that they had to hold me to this standard. Tomorrow I will have another chance to reach this goal.

      1. Student Timer! I gotta get this student job going, too.

        I already have an English Referee that throws a flag at me for more than 4 seconds in English. And they count fast. haha.

        I keep stopping class and pointing to my class rule as well – “Do not blurt English or speak English to your neighbor.”

  4. Ok, true confessions here! I had to take my 6th period class to the library today to do the “dreaded book work” because they, as a whole, would not stop the side-chatter, the blurting out, the rolling of the eyes and groaning at the disruptions, etc etc etc…. I was so frustrated with them as a whole that I resorted to the library to give us all a break from the chaos~
    I have 2 students with Asbergers (spelling) who are really sweet kids but who have no sense of what not blurting out means…others who respond to their blurts with groans and eye-rolling…one student who thinks he is the class entertainer and it is his job to walk around and dance for everyone – ALL THE TIME!!!!!
    My class feels like Whack-a-Mole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Today was only 45 minutes of class so I felt like I had to take a drastic measure to get everyone’s attention. I told them about the problem in the first 3 minutes and how I was resorting to an alternative way of teaching in order to find time to address some individual behaviors. As they quietly copied activities from the book I stopped at some tables and spoke to individuals about why we were doing this. Most seemed to “get it” but 2 still did not.
    I have asked the counselor to speak to two girls who are especially intolerant of my Asberger kiddos since I am not allowed to talk to them about specifics.
    I have called home on the “entertainer” and will call again tonight. He just does not seem to get the fact that his behavior is unacceptable! Amazing!
    Ben said, once a long time ago, that we expect students to show up and be human. So often this is the only class where that is expected and so some students just don’t know how to be that! It is my job to teach them and to NOT tolerate anything less.
    I am committed to making this work – thanks to the fact that my other 4 classes are humming right along!

    Thanks for letting me vent ~ I feel better already 🙂


  5. James and Melissa, I had a rough day today, too, at least parts of it. The disruptions are annoying. Plus we have to do 3-week grade reports so I’ve been trying to catch up. I had to remind myself more than once that I am committed to TCI and I’m not turning back. I did once before and whether I teach 1 more year or 10 more, I am doing this.
    I fell flat on my face with Spanish I today. Had a great mini-story about a beetle who walked toward a girl, she screamed, and a classmate rescued her. The same thing happened the next day to the very same girl, and instead of killing it, another girl carried the bug outside. But I got out of bounds and probably went too fast. I realized I must relax, have fun, go slow, and keep it simple. My Spanish 2 students, most of whom I’ve taught, haven’t retained much from my mostly non-TPRS hybrid textbook class last. It grieved me to realize how I have failed my students. I hope to do right by them this year but I am struggling with how to fill in the gaps. But today I thought about you all more than once and it helped. And one of my 2s told me she named her hamster after Chula in the Joselito extended reading book; she was excited about it and that made my day.

    1. Tim, don’t give up. I found that even after my first year of CI without training, they still were able to do much more that before. Last year after a 3 day training, I had even better outcomes. But where I really see the increase is in my 3rd and 4th year. At the end of this year your students will still be able to do more that other traditional 2nd year students.

      I love that your student named her hamster Chula and these are the things to grab onto when flopping in a class. Check out bail out moves. I try to have one as a backup when I feel it flopping in a class. Also have you had a student time y’all for 10 minutes. It has been a great way to let all of us feel success when we stay in the TL for 10 minutes. If I need to I throw in a little TPR for a few minutes before starting 10 more minutes.

      You ARE doing right by your students and I hope that you don’t feel otherwise anymore. I am sure that you did your best last year. Don’t feel failure. It’s just a step in the process. What we are doing is not easy and I want you to remember that. We are all learning each day.

      By the way, what is the Joselito reading book?

  6. I have come across this recently, because someone of great intelligence on this blog mentioned Carol Keogh Lindsey. The below description is one I’m into for the moment.

    Having completely stopped using terms that relate only to language learning, I am now more comprehensible to people who have minds of metal. Comprehensible Input, Krashen, TPRS are words of a madman to them. So, I have taken to using generally-accepted research and dissertation topics in general education that fit my way of thinking…..

    I use ‘Implicit Learning’ ‘Tacit Knowledge’ ‘Non-explicit teaching’ ‘Immersion’ and now….. ‘Emergent curriculum.’ Thank you to whoever loves Ms. Lindsey!!!! Maybe emergent learning has come up before, but I have never seen it before tonight….

    “Emergent curriculum is a way of planning curriculum based on the student’s interest and passions as well as the teacher’s. To plan an emergent curriculum requires observation, documentation, creative brainstorming, flexibility and patience. Rather than starting with a lesson plan which requires a “hook” to get the children interested, emergent curriculum starts with the children’s interests. This is not to say that the teacher has no input, in fact teachers may well have a general topic they think is important for children to study and they may purposely include certain materials or experiences related to it as jumping off points. Elizabeth Jones points out:

    We are the stage directors; curriculum is teacher’s responsibility, not children’s. People who hear the words emergent curriculum may wrongly assume that everything simply emerges from the children. The children’s ideas are an important source of curriculum but only one of many possible sources that reflect the complex ecology of their lives. (Jones p. 5)”

    It speaks to me….

    1. Leigh Anne, I copied this and mailed it to Dr. Lindsay. ( I love how that sounds!) I think the quote above is from her dissertation. She just sent me one chapter and it is dense and I am just
      starting to read it, but she and I have been talking about this stuff for years. She came to my school a few months ago and we taught classes together and she thought what I was doing ( basic TPRS principals adapted to all my individual classes ) had so much in common with emergent curriculum.
      She has been studying Reggio Emilia, the Italian pre school for more than 20 years and teaching teachers. I am excited to start learning about it in more depth, it seems to really support what we are doing.

      1. Hi, Martha!

        Keep the names coming! I’m glad that you appreciated my comments…

        Congratulations to your friend, Dr. Lindsay. How lucky that she was able to spend time with you on your campus.

        I will be looking up Reggio Emilia, and brushing up on my Italian. 🙂

        1. Ha! One room school house, not much of a campus, but thank you!
          She sent me the entire dissertation this morning. She did hundreds of hours of interviews with teachers and I was able to read a few just now that are amazing and relate so well to what we are doing. I’ll put together the best ones and send them in to Ben soon.

          By the way the piece you quoted I don’t think was her was it?

        2. I visited a Reggio Emilia preschool in San Francisco a few years ago – just for part of a day during my 8th grade class field trip. One interesting feature was that the walls are intentionally painted in secondary or tertiary colors, not bold primary colors. There was an aim to develop thinking skills.

          We visited that school because it was also a Mandarin/English dual immersion school. Ex: they would pre-teach things in English one afternoon, then talk about them the next morning in Mandarin. We watched them talking with the kids in Mandarin about how to sort their books into small, medium, and large to fit into different boxes, and had the kids picking up a book and choosing where it should be sorted.

  7. This way of teaching is so different in so many ways that it really should be no surprise that many teachers don’t do it. Content, curriculum, assessment, method, discipline, philosophy – all drastically different.

    And the amount of time it would take to understand, learn, and practice this approach is too much for many. A 2- or 3-day workshop isn’t even close to being sufficient training. Mostly, those workshops are a sample and inspire. With a workshop and without continuous training and study and without time, you may go into the classroom all motivated to TPRS and when it flops, people blame the method.

    But those of us choosing to teach with CI will reach many many kids. Future language teachers who have experienced TCI will find it so much easier to teach this way. It will be intuitive – teaching with CI will have been an acquired skill. For us, it starts out as an intellectual process – we are “learning” and “practicing” the method. For most of us (all?), we were not taught this way, so we have no familiarity with it. Pat on the back to all who would do TCI despite all the many challenges it entails!

  8. Emergent Curriculum? I like it. It reminds me of what a veteran science teacher near me said once, “I don’t plan, I react.” Of course she plans, but not in the same way (as Eric alluded to) as teachers have been expected to plan in the past. Good riddance of that rigid old model that we’re burying in the …. wait for it … MUD!

    And re “immersion”, I really like Eric’s term “optimal immersion”, because “immersion” to me is more like “SUBmersion”.

  9. And BTW, I’ve also been using too much English. I think I’m going to assign the syllabus as homework reading (with parents) next year, as opposed to going over it in class. Just one more thing that kids don’t want to listen to and that isn’t helping their Spanish. We teach the rules and procedures by enforcing them, not by talking about them.

    1. “We teach the rules and procedures by enforcing them, not by talking about them.”

      To me, the syllabus, rules, etc. makes most sense once the kids have sampled the class. Then, it’s meaningful. I “pop up” that stuff as I jump in the first day with some PQA of my name (Profesor Herman o Cerdo [pig – with props!] Herman? etc.)

      I think “Optimal Immersion” gets credited to Terry Waltz. I like and use that term 🙂

      1. Credit noted. Thanks Eric.

        yeah, that sounds like a Slavic intro that I’ve used for the past seven years, without fail! 🙂 Simplicity with a smile.

        I also jump straight into Spanish the first day, but even after just a sample, it doesn’t mean as much as the real modeling of what I’m trying to say in the syllabus. Maybe I’ll wait til week 2 to bust it out. Or I’ll assign it as homework. To start off first thing with the syllabus, or any other explanation in English of what we do, is a mistake I’ve come to realize.

  10. Melissa, someone on here recommended using extended readings by Blaine (and I think Jamie Picket was one of the authors, a yellow book) that were for Spanish I originally as reading warm-up/bellwork for Spanish 2. I grabbed one of the first stories and the kids did well with it. The stories are goofy and tie in with vocab used in Look I Can Talk. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. I have been having my 2nd year students read one almost every day and then take a little quiz. One student told me that this is the best thing that we have done. Also by grading the quiz, I can see where each student is in comprehension. I bought the reproducible ones and they may be a little different than the Joselito story. Or it may be further in my packet.

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