Wednesday, March 13, 2019

CI Overwhelm: practical tools for coping (#1)

Do you know that CI overwhelm feeling?  Like you have gone down into a black hole of resources and ideas and videos to watch and handouts to read and blogposts to follow and...and...and....

Which stage of CI are you in?  

Where do you even begin?

I have some ideas.  First, and foremost:


Now take another one.  Just for fun, take a couple more.

You are not alone. You are not the first person to have this experience.  Since I started focusing on speaking so that my students understand and want to engage in communication with me, aka providing Compelling, ComprehendED Input, there has been an actual explosion in resources, communities, trainings, blogs, readers, webinars, and more. *

Regarding all the amazing things you want to do/think you should be doing/feel bad about not doing:  Angela Watson over at TruthForTeachers has a lot of great ideas about being enough.**

It is really easy to think you have to be all of that.  And more.  That video that you saw? That person has probably been doing this for a long time.  (For some perspective, you might want to take a look at this post from Chris Stoltz:  You are now playing the long game.)

That writing sample where their kids are fluently using le passé composé?  Again, people don't post their student's worst writings.
And that bulletin board that is totally pinterest worthy and not in your classroom or even in your wildest dreams? (That teacher probably has a TA. Let's be honest here.)

Did you read that great blog post that makes you want to rethink everything and re-do it all, right now?  Do you think that you need to overhaul your classroom management system, assessment protocol, gradebook, and why not your entire teaching philosophy while you're at it?

Hang on.  More deep breaths.

You want to be a better teacher?   You want to get better at delivering input?

Slow down.

Slow down and get good at one thing. *** 

Just one.  OK, maybe that is not your style- you want it all, you are an overachiever, and you want it now. NOW.  Me too.  But let me tell you about the power of working on one thing.

Sorry for the poor quality- this is the
poster that is in my classroom
After attending NTPRS where, for the first time, I got to be a student in a less commonly taught language, I had a major aha moment.

I realized the power of going slow, and that the one thing I could change easily was to talk more slowly.

That was my only goal. SLOW DOWN.  I made a gigantic poster of my adorable cats lounging on my bed with the word "slowly" in Spanish, and hung it at the back of my room so I could see it every day.  And my goal for the whole year was to focus on that one thing.  And you know what, after about 6 months- six months!- of working on going slow, I was a better teacher.

I was better because I was more comprehensible.  I had to intentionally slow myself down by doing things like pausing. And pointing.  And writing new words on the board. And looking at their eyes.  So suddenly I was providing more comprehensible input and getting better at all kinds of discreet skills, by just focusing on that one thing.

A thinking exercise:  

Take some time, maybe your relaxing beverage of choice, and do some reflection. Below is a reflection form I created for a wonderful teacher I have been mentoring online. She was feeling all those emotions that I described above- like a failure, like she wasn't good enough, like she wanted to change everything right now but didn't know where to relate?  Me too.
Take your relaxing beverage of choice and do some reflecting.****

Look at your teaching life- your practice.  Fill out the Gut Level Teacher Reflection: CI Version (Click here for the printable version.)  Thanks to Jennifer Gonzalez' post over at Cult Of Pedagogy and her kind permission to adapt and share.

Download the form here:

Under each domain, list things that give you positive feelings (+), negative feelings (—), and mixed or unclear feelings (?) or questions.

Domain #1: Skills for Delivering CI

Which of these do you think you are good at? Which do you think need more practice at? Is there one that feels *more* manageable? Is there one that is overwhelming?
(asking circling and triangling questions, pause and point, staying in-bounds with vocab, slow speech, choral response, teaching to the eyes, checking for comprehension)

Domain #2: Techniques for delivering CI

What do you feel confident about? What activities give you dread?
(Calendar/card/small Talk, story-asking, PQA, PictureTalk, MovieChat, group reading, OWI, personalization, [too many to list])

Domain #3:Classroom management and relationships

What do you do to help build relationships with students and make them feel safe and ready to take risks? What are the behaviors that make you crazy?  Is there that one kid that you connected with?

Domain #4: Assessment

What do you believe about assessment? Do grades in your class reflect what students can do with language? What feels bad about grading? What feels ok?

Domain #5: The Why 

Sometimes, knowing why we do something paves the way for the what to become much easier. Take a look at some statements and note whether you have a positive, negative, or mixed/confused feeling. Some are statements about language acquisition, mostly taken from Dr. Bill VanPatten’s work.

  • A flood of input creates a trickle of output.
  • There are no such things as grammar rules.
  • What teachers call errors are indicators of developmental learning stages of the learner.
  • All students are capable of acquiring a language.
  • Language learning is stage like; more instruction does not alter the need to go through the stages.
  • Language is abstract, language is different than math.

Domain #6: Self-care 

Being attuned to the emotions and gauging comprehension levels and focusing on all the skills can be exhausting. Consider your work-life balance, your routines for self-care, your sleep and eating habits, and things that are important to you outside of school. Jot down what is working for you, what you feel is not working, etc.

Last step:

Take a look at your +, -, and ? notes.
Now pick one.

ONE, I said. Not one from each domain, you overachiever you.  Just one.

Pick one thing from your notes and work on that.  There might be a million more other things that WILL help you be a better teacher, but what, to you, today, is the one thing for you?  You can come back to your list later.  It will still be there. (Unless you lose it. Quick- snap a photo!)

* When I started, and I am one of the newer practicioners having only done this for five years, there were no facebook groups. There were no newsletters. Gosh darnit we had to connect via a listserv.  That's right.  Email listserv.  Occasionally I would send an email to that nice lady Martina and she would email me back a couple months later.

**Favorite blog posts by Angela Watson:
Getting out of the day-by-day lesson planning trap
The culture of cute in the classroom
The simplest way to stop feeling overwhelmed and over-scheduled 
When is it ok to feel like you have done enough for a student

***I realized, while watching Faith Laux's presentation on ComprehensibleOnline, where I learned the  "One thing" advice from: The amazingly influential Karen Rowan.  Thanks, Karen!

****Yes, I did just discover bitmoji.   And I am totally, utterly charmed by it, way more than I have any right to be.


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I was just thinking of what I “haven’t done” and how much more I need to do! Thank you for reminding me that the best possible way I can be a better teacher is by focusing on one strategy before trying another (3

  2. I can totally identify with everything you expressed here. I've been reading SO many posts and watching so many videos on CI.I need to slow down, breath and work on one thing at a time. I'm happy of all the relationships and community built in my classes this crucial year. Next year will be even better. Thanks!!

  3. This still rings true. Thanks so much for your thoughts. They help. : )