The Top 10 Things You Need to Know about Comprehensible Input

Blogger’s Note: Like most of what I write about on this blog, I’m sure I got this information from either Tina Hargaden or Bryce Hedstrom (I forget which), but I have made it quick and easy to read in a Late Night Talk Show Top 10 List for you all to enjoy! So… Enjoy!

The Top 10 Things You Need to Know about Comprehensible Input:

10. Comprehensible Input (CI) teaching is NOT 100% immersion!

Most of the class time (90% or more) should be conducted in the target language (in my case, ASL) by both teacher and students. Don’t be afraid to switch back and forth as needed, especially to establish meaning of unknown words. I personally use English for the first 5% of class time to check in with students and build a positive relationship with my kids. This has helped my classroom rapport improve dramatically and I highly recommend it. The other 5% of available English, I use while teaching new Brain Breaks or explaining new signs that might have complex parameters (like MONTH, for example).

9. Aim for the “sweet spot”: i+1.

Having never been a world language teacher until this year, I started out having never heard of a thing called Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, but it has become the cornerstone of what I do as an ASL teacher. You can read the handy-dandy Wikipedia article I linked, or just keep this in mind: speaking English in an ASL class will not help anyone learn ASL. Using ASL students can’t comprehend yet will also not help anyone learn ASL. If we only ever use simple ASL phrases, students will never learn any MORE ASL than that. Therefore, you’ve always got to try to make things just a tad more complex than the day before so students are constantly acquiring more unique language skills.

8. Students should not have to guess in your class.

Students should be free to say they don’t understand and as a teacher, you can explain it again or simply translate it to English for them. However, if you ask comprehension questions frequently enough and go slowly enough while you teach, your students should rarely feel like they don’t understand what is going on in class.

7. If students don’t understand, instructors are wasting time.

One of my favorite things I ever wrote down during my initial research into CI is “If students don’t understand you, you’re just making noises.” Of course, in ASL, it’s more like “you’re just flapping your hands around.”

6. The input you give must be compelling.

Your class should be so dang interesting that you can stand at the front of the room for fifty minutes and can’t be ignored. Students should be so engaged that they forget you’re not speaking English. Don’t give them the boring crap from the textbook. Talk about things that your students ACTUALLY want to talk about. Just do it in sign language.

5. No Forced Signing!

(This one is still the hardest for me to accept, so feel free to not be on board with this particular one quite yet. I get it.) Basically, the thought is that when students have acquired enough language, they will sign. When they are comfortable enough in your class, they will sign. They shouldn’t be doing a forced “watch and repeat after me” or performing cheesy pre-determined dialogues with a partner. (Many of my students repeat after me anytime I show a new sign, simply because they want to try it themselves.) Students are encouraged to sign through constant questioning, but are still allowed to answer in English if that’s what they prefer. Regardless, the teacher should be using the target language (ASL) almost all of the time.

4. No one likes grammar but you.

Grammar explanations are used to make our messages to each other clear. No one cares about grammar except for the one or two budding linguists in your class… and maybe you. Only spend time discussing grammar if the meaning of your sentence RIGHT NOW needs to be clear. (For example, explaining eyebrows for WH and YN questions at the very beginning of the year would be useful.) Everything else, the kids will simply pick up naturally.

3. Sign ssssssllllllloooooooowwwwwwww and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat…

I thought I signed slow in my ASL classes, but then I learned that in Tina’s classes, she does this thing where she takes a few steps and a deep breath and counts to six in her head between like every three words. She goes slowwwwwwww and it just makes it so much easier for kids to understand what’s happening. It gives them processing time to take it all in. Then when you stop and check for comprehension again and again and again, you know all your students are still with you.

2. Aim for automaticity.

The goal for everything you do in your class is for your kids to use L2 (ASL) without even thinking about it. They should react to you in ASL and not even realize that they’re doing it. They should be able to respond and it should just “feel right” to do it in ASL. When students can reply confidentlyaccurately, and without hesitation, they have mastered the concept you are teaching and you can move on. If they can’t? REPEAT.

And the number one thing you need to know about Comprehensible Input?

1. We all get better when we work together.

Find CI teacher friends in real life or on Twitter. Join Facebook groups. Watch YouTube videos. Read blogs (like this one!). Go to conferences. Host PD sessions. Spread the news. Ask questions. And above all else: keep learning.




2 thoughts on “The Top 10 Things You Need to Know about Comprehensible Input

  1. Jenna, this is AWESOME! Great to see this excellent summary, AND, it’s ASL-specific! I love that the word and presence are spreading among ASL teachers. I agree, let’s work and learn together!
    -Mary McKeon

    Liked by 1 person

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