Rules and Expectations: Part 1

Laurie has just posted a very important series of articles on her website (find the link in the lower right hand corner of this page). I will repeat each article here over the next few days, pushing other discussions aside just a bit. This stuff needs to be anywhere on the internet where comprehension based instruction and the change to the 90% use statement are being discussed. Here is the first in the series and thank you Laurie for helping us refocus our binoculars in this direction:

Rules and Expectations: Part 1

What you see here is a compilation of comments from this listserv, TPRStalks, Ben Slavic’s blog, observations of other teachers and my own thoughts. I cannot stress enough how timely and important Sara’s question is for us as individual teachers this time of year AND in this season of language education as more and more teachers become interested in using Comprehensible Input with their students. Teri has mentioned that we are getting closer to a critical mass of CI teachers and she is right. This issue of rules/expectations is crucial if we are to help teachers become CI teachers. It is crucial if we are to convince departments to become CI departments.

Several of you expressed this so well: We need rules and we need expectations for our students in order to create an atmosphere that does the following:

a. allows and encourages each student to feel physically and emotionally safe, as a student and as a person.

b. allows the teacher to conduct the class and accomplish whatever leadership duties are important to the running of a safe school.

c. provides the maximum possible amount of Comprehensible Input each time the class meets.

d. facilitates both spontaneous and controlled interaction as often as possible.

When a teacher is first exploring the use of TPRS in the classroom, the conditions above are extremely beneficial, in fact nearly requisite, in order for successful CI based lessons to occur. The problem is that presenters are so often naturally gifted or extraordinarily experienced at creating these conditions. Not to mention the fact that the class during a presentation is made up of attentive language teachers!! (well…not always, but that is another story!)

There is also so much to see and take in, that when we first are starting out that we often only focus on what we the teachers should do in order to make a CI lesson happen. We have to figure out what story-asking looks like, how to make circling really happen, how to elicit responses, what to do with them when we get them, how to PQA, what to do with reading, how to work it in with what we already do…etc. etc. etc.

A piece has been missing and Sara has just pointed it out quite clearly.


a. They need to understand that a CI lesson is an INTERACTIVE lesson. Many of them have never seen one…or haven’t since kindergarten….Here is a sample script:

“I am going to do or say something that will encourage your brain to acquire (insert L2 here). I will make it clear if one or all of you will respond, and what you should do in response.”

And then we have to live up to that promise. It will take a little time, but when it is clearly outlined, and clearly executed, with love and patience, it is nearly flawless.

Many of you know that I use the analogy of an orchestra with my students. The class is the orchestra. I am the Maestro. I will indicate if the entire orchestra is responding, one section, or if there is a soloist. If I don’t, there will be mess of noise. The students will attempt to play with insufficient guidance until one by one the give up drift into their own little conversations and activities.

You can follow Carol Gaab’s model on this. She clearly gestures exactly when she wants the response to happen so that wait/think time occurs. She may use a prop or a hand signal. Her entire body is poised and alert and frozen signalling “Wait for it, wait for it…NOW!” and the class responds.

You can follow Blaine’s model on this as well. Blaine’s signal is verbal…”Clase”….precedes the question and the entire class responds. “Princesa”…precedes the question and the class knows that Princesa will be responding. He inserts one individual response in sea of class responses and they know that they need to pay attention. If he doesn’t get the response that he wants, he lovingly chides them by saying, “Claaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase” with the occasional “Es obvio” and the class/orchestra is brought back in to play.

Reteach as necessary.

Not language: expectations and behavior.
In a CI classroom, language is acquired and behavior is learned.

The good news is that many of us have had years of experience in how to get kids to learn. All of the skills that we thought we helping them w/ language we can now use in order to help them learn the behaviors that they need in our rooms in order to be able to interact with us and with the language in order to acquire it.

So, for a CI-based lesson, whether it centers around PQA, story-asking or reading, our students must learn how to interact. We must teach them what is required, require what is required, and reteach when they are not giving us what is required. j

Question #2: What is required?

Required of the student:

* Eyes, ears and brain on where the teacher has directed attention (the teacher, actors, a picture, a phrase, a reading)

* A signal when the student does not understand what is being communicated.

* A response when and how the teacher has indicated. This may be verbal or physical.

Required of the teacher:

* A clear explanation of the above and repeated reminders as necessary in a clear but kind manner.

* Honoring and celebrating when individuals or classes do the above.

* Clear, comprehensible TL during the lesson.

* Clear preparation of what responses are required and when.

* Consistent use of the gestures/indicators that have been taught as the lesson is orchestrated. (yes..pun intended)

A number of folks have great rules posted in their classrooms for students. These teachers teach the rules and use the rules. These work best when the teachers think about the needs of their own students and adjust/add rules as necessary. Some of these include (wording may vary):

Clear eyes on the teacher.
Listen and respond.
No language that isn’t part of the interaction.
Try to stay in (insert TL here)
The expectations are simple to state ….but involve scaffolded training and practice to use. The behavior of students according to these rules will also DIFFER from class to class, level to level and teacher to teacher. Dialogue with teachers will help each of us to create the best wording and usage with our own students.

Now…these are the rules/expectations for the LESSON.

Rules/expectations for other classroom activities may differ.
(see upcoming Post 2…if you’ve made it this far…)

What we, as teachers, need to think about, and add, bit by bit, step by step as we continue on down the road as CI teachers is what responses are needed from the class, how to teach them, how to elicit them and how to celebrate them.

(and that will probably be Post 3….)

with love,




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