New Book Q and A

My new book which will be out next summer is Book 4 of the Ultimate CI series. It will include lots of questions I typically get about Books 1 and 2. This morning I got some good questions about the first 83 pages of Book 1 and if you are working in that book and have some time, get a cup of coffee and read the lengthy answers to the excellent questions I got this a.m. from Anita Lukey.

Q. How do we get students to know the sequence of the StarChart?

A. We put up a poster and each time we start a new phase we stop and walk over (or project the image) and tell them exactly where we are now and where we are doing and why.

This means that we tell them that the first two phases are about listening so they have to listen really well in the first part of the Star. We tell them Spanish class or whatever is not like their other subjects, that listening and understanding is the most important thing at first.

Then we tell them that in the third phase it’s about learning how to write when they see you write out the (very simple at first) tableau but if they listen well know they will get a high grade and then one day they will be creating stories with you and that’s a lot of fun!

Really in Phase 3 they are learning how to read as we set up Phase 4. So In Phase 3 you could say that we are teaching them writing by showing them how to turn sound (learned in Phases 1 and 2) into meaning on paper (which is what writing is) but it differs from how we used to teach writing by having them memorize rules. In this way we teach them how to eventually write by themselves based on Krashen’s Natural Order of Acquisition hypotheses, and not on how they used to teach writing in textbooks. It’s a short but very useful phase. You don’t have to explain all this to the kids, of course.

In the fourth phase they learn to read, and again they do so according to the research that indicates that we learn to read after first having first heard a ton of auditory CI and not the opposite. We don’t have to go into all these details, of course, with the kids. But it is fun, when explaining the Star in class, to see little lights go on in their heads when you say things like, “Does anyone know why we write and read in Phases 3 and 4 and not in Phases 1 and 2? Right, James! It is because that is how babies learn languages, isn’t it? You are all babies with Spanish right now, correct? So now everybody make baby noises and I will too (make baby noises).” Just keep the explanation of each Star phase simple for them. I’m going into more detail here to help you see how the Star is so deeply based on the research.

Another thing about Phase 4 is that in Level 1 classes we avoid those chapter books like Pobre Ana. We only read stuff that we created. Then they can read it. The chapter books favor kids of privilege who grew up in homes with books. This contributes to the breakdown of equity that has been going on for so long in our nation’s schools.

The heavy focus on reading in level one in my opinion has largely been driven by book sales and profit and that is one reason (of 75 in a published article I wrote once about why I left the TPRS movement – they made it so much about reading in level 1).

Then when you get to Phase 5 (not until the second semester usually unless you have a really fast class) and so tell them when you get to that phase that in it we have fun doing all sorts of mixes of listening and reading (translation quiz) and writing (dictee) and games (WCTG).

That’s a more complicated answer but really the idea here is to make sure that they know how and why they are learning and why the Star is organized the way it is (metacognition) so they feel secure that their teacher knows what they are doing.

Making sure that our students know the Star allows them to know the hows and whys of how you teach and so you asked a really good question there. I don’t see a lot of metacognitive discussion in language classes. (ex: a student asks “Why are learning like this?” and an honest response would be “It is because the corporate textbook industry makes billions of dollars from us so we learn that way.”)

When we used the textbook we alienate boys (who are so kinesthetic but I won’t go into that here.)

Some teachers just teach without explaining and it’s all a big secret how and why but as I said above you are giving them security in the knowledge that their teacher knows what they are doing and why they are doing it. So thank you for this question. I know it is overexlained here but hey that’s what I do. My initials are B.S.

When they know the Star from the poster on the board or projected image of it, and then when you teach them so slowly in each Phase and they UNDERSTAND, then they score almost perfect scores on the four quizzes.

The Star also fills their need to know WHEN the next quiz is coming (pop quizzes are from Hell) and so that is another big reason to stop class and explain when the next quiz is coming (quizzes in Phases 2, 3 and two of them in Phase 5). Then they know how to gear up and focus and it is so wonderful when they know that IF THEY JUST LISTEN they will get those high scores on 50% of their grade (the other 50% being the rubric) and this all but alleviates the problem of classes being split down kids with backgrounds of privilege and those from poverty, bc you are now teaching in a way that, if they just listen, they can get an A or B, which is so important to them. Of course this builds equity in your classroom. How could it not?

You start seeing kids start to sit up, pull their hoodies down, etc. bc they start to see that they CAN DO IT. THEN when they know that they can TRUST you and your classroom management issues disappear, the class unites to form a community, and the problem of them “paying attention” is gone from the equation and we realize as the research indicates that all people can learn a language.

Anyway, this is expressed in a clumsy manner but yeah, you just stop and explain what you are going to do each time you arrive at a new phase and after awhile they get it and you don’t have to explain it anymore.

What is really nice for you here is that when I say no planning I mean it. And when I say no mental burden at the beginning of class (really a light hearted feeling for you) because:

  1. You know you are teaching according to the Standard.
  2. You know you are teaching in alignment with research.
  3. You are not assessing in a way that favors the few.
  4. You are securing your job because you see all the kids signing up for the class at the next level because they are experiencing so much success. (So many kids who have been labeled as stupid – this addresses the inherent racism in our society – start having success and this changes their lives.)
  5. You can leave the building each day thinking of relaxing and focusing on your family and loved ones or just learning how to love yourself and not feel that you have to work really hard for others’ approval. This is important because so many school administrators and other people in our society have narcissistic traits and you seek their approval and then they leave to another building or are kicked upstairs and then you have to work real hard to gain the approval of the next admin and it takes a toll on your mental and physical well-being. I would love to do a study of how many admins are narcs in schools and how many teachers are empaths. This would open some eyes.
  6. At the core foundation of this Star is the mental health of teachers and students, and addressing the BLM movement. If the way I teach were not related to mental health and the BLM movement then I would not use the Star – I would invent something else.
  7. Instead of having to plan the class, you just ask them where that particular class is on the Star when they come in. They always remember because you will see a lively spirit of competition with other classes happen (due to the Classroom Gallery) and so they begin without anyone noticing it that they begin to strive for excellence. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy your work of simply delivering the CI.

There is always the question “But I have to follow the curriculum!” Then do! It’s your job. Find some time during the class, or during the week, or monthly, or yearly, to do some CI. Certainly you don’t need a whole class period to do worksheets. What I tell everyone doing the Star is to quickly and efficiently teach the stuff from the department-wide curriculum so that they can memorize it via worksheets for the common assessment, but then maybe in the final 1/3rd  of the class tell the kids, “OK we got the important stuff out of the way. Good job! Now let’s just mess around and speak together in the language and take a break from the important stuff and have a little fun.” They always go for it.

SORRY I got on a roll there but it is good information.

To sum up, children need to know why they are being taught in the way they are, so you do that explaining each time you arrive at a new phase of the Star. Keep it simple, just a sentence or two, and then after awhile they know and you don’t have to do this metacognitive work anymore.

Q. Can I do this with other types of sentences for my Spanish 2 class? I do not know how much of the star sequence these students had for Spanish I (for instance, draw an injury that you had that you remembered, draw a picture of something that you do for your daily routine)

A. I do not recommend using the Star with students who have been taught traditionally. In my experience, they resent having to do rigorous work and pay attention in class. Many have learned that they can sleep through class, study for the test and get a D or above by memorizing the night before the test, and so they prefer that to actually showing up in class as a person.

Q. How do I do WBYT while not using the Star method?

A. WBYT and its online equivalent skill, the Jesus Rule, is my upgrade of the old concept still taught in TPRS of SLOW. But WBYT differs from SLOW as a learned pedagogical skill bc it specifically explains HOW to go slow. So for me there is no difference if you use it with the Star or without it. Any time you do CI, use it.

Q. Does this process get old after a while?  When can I start using the One Word Image or the Individually Created Image?

A. Another great question! Yes, I hear you. I generally promise myself that I will get to all the student cards by April (because even the “disengaged” kids – disengaged kids only on the surface -they are listening at the beginning of the year because they are interested in their classmates even though they don’t act like it). So as long as I get to them all by April, this allows me to break into OWIs for about a month as early as early September and into ICIs (which are far better than OWIs for student engagement). You’re the teacher and the Star is YOUR tool, and there is no one right way to use it.

I compare the Star to a car chassis with four wheels, an engine and a steering wheel, upon which you get to put your own car body, decide what color you want it, how often you want to drive it, if you want to paint an American flag on it like I did once, how fast or slowly your you drive it, what kind of sound system you put in it, leather or vinyl seats, etc. It’s yours and each of us is different so we do with it what we want. This is good bc then we can respond to our departmental requirements in a professional and not confrontive way. I’ve spent too many years fighting for CI but now I just say yes to whoever signs my paycheck and sneak the kids into my car for a Star voyage whenever I can. No fights over pedagogy fits in with my overall goal to always remember that this is just a job for me, a way to pay the bills and have some fun without burning out like I did six times (clinically) in my former lifetime as a strong proponent of grammar instruction and AP French Language and Literature teacher, when I didn’t know I was dividing my communities of Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Charleston, SC before I came to Colorado and met the person who saved my life in some ways (I was working too hard and not spending any time with my family) whose name is Susan Gross – the greatest of them all.

Q. How will students know what the embedded new text is in English?

A. They won’t recognize it. They will understand the base text because you used WBYT so well in Phases 1 and 2, so when they read the new text in Phase 3 it will trip a switch and they will immediately want to know what it means. That’s how the Star works – it makes them want to learn instead of you wanting them to learn.

Thanks again!


I am very happy for these great questions. I will put this in a new book I’m writing, a Q and A on the first two Ultimate CI books, if that’s all right with you.



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