Personalization is an important part of a CI (comprehensible input) class. Students thrive on hearing about themselves, talking about themselves, and feeling like others care about them (especially if others genuinely DO care about them!). Personalization can also be one of the hardest aspects that a new (or experienced) CI teacher contends with in class. I talk to teachers about this frequently and always get questions about this! I’m going to identify some common concerns and address them here. Feel free to ask additional questions in the comments or tweet me @placido! Use the hashtag #cipeek on twitter.
1. Am I getting too personal?
Teachers very often get confused by the term personalization. We are not trying to counsel students or delve into their deep secrets during class. We do not want to be awkward! Don’t ever ask highly personal or potentially embarrassing questions in class. If a question might be embarrassing or awkward for some students but not for others, ask for a volunteer to provide that information. I asked the question recently if anyone had a mean stepmom (we were talking about the story of Snow White in preparation to read Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos by Carrie Toth). I had a kid volunteer to tell a story about his stepmom that seemed far-fetched yet really terrible. So…that went badly! Be careful! Taking about real-life family situations is very shaky ground sometimes. Perhaps ask more benign questions such as “does your mom make you clean the house?” or “does your stepmom have a magic mirror?” A teacher recently shared with me that she had asked a male student if he had a girlfriend and the boy became very embarrassed. Relationships and sexuality in general are tricky subjects too, especially for adolescents. If you need a student to have a boyfriend or girlfriend in a story you want to tell, one strategy is to ask a student ahead of time. You could say “Hey, Hannah…I need a girl in my story who is dating a cute boy. Could I use you for that? Can you choose a celebrity that you’d be willing to say is your boyfriend?” or “Hey, Jake…would you be willing to say your wife is Ariana Grande today in class?” I actually avoid REAL relationships because sometimes I continue a theme for multiple stories and high school relationships are notoriously fickle and awkward!
2. But this isn’t really personal!
Right. It doesn’t have to be TRUE! A total fabrication, when supplied BY a student and bought into by the class BECOMES personal. And then, it becomes a fun inside joke that you can get mileage out of for a long time, often for YEARS! Those little inside jokes are like glue that bonds your class together emotionally. When the teacher remembers those details and discusses them playfully, it is like saying “I remember you and I like you a lot!”
3. I’m trying to ask a story and the students are not supplying helpful details
Storyasking is a tough skill to master and takes a great deal of practice. It is 100% worth your investment of time to become good at it. Or even to become okay at it. One thing that you need to know is that the students do not 100% “invent” a story. Storyasking is a teacher leading the class toward a story, while allowing students to contribute details. When I first started storytelling, I really wanted my students to have control over the story. I would start with things like “Class, is there a boy or a girl in the story? Oh, a girl? Ok. The girl goes…class, where does the girl go?” and then the story would proceed to go nowhere. What I have learned is that you don’t want to give the students total control. You are the cruise director. The cruise is going to THIS island, and you can choose from these TWO excursions! You give them SOME control and limited choices, and the teacher gets the final say. Those little details they contribute become the way the story feels personal to them, and the way they get a stake in the class. However, the teacher directs the story and can maintain control over the “skeleton” story (the basic story stripped bare of the extra details) he or she has in mind. As the teacher becomes more skilled at storyasking, he or she may gradually become more comfortable going into class with NO skeleton story in mind, allowing a story to more organically flow out of a natural discussion with students. This is a very advanced skill and some teachers may never get to this point or feel comfortable doing this all the time. Other teachers masterfully conduct class each day with virtually no lesson plan in mind at all. Don’t feel like a failure if you cannot do this. Any comprehensible input you provide is good and you will develop your own style in time.
4. I have a curriculum I need to teach? How can I personalize it?
Anything can be more personalized simply by asking for opinions, reactions, predictions, or by asking students to place themselves in another person’s shoes. In addition, you can still take the vocabulary or structures from your curriculum and use storytelling to provide comprehensible input based on that curriculum. Teachers required to use a textbook can take some of the vocabulary (perhaps look over several chapters to find a wider variety of vocabulary rather than trying to tell a story with all adjectives or all school subjects). Look online and find other teachers who have to use the same textbook and collaborate.
In my school, we have no textbook and our teachers have a variety of philosophies about teaching. One thing that we agree on is that we enjoy using novels with our students. We have selected the novels we will use each quarter of each level. Beyond that, we have freedom to add other things into our teaching. My approach is that I use the structures in the novels as the basis of my storytelling and personalized discussions. In addition, I look for cultural items I can expand upon and search for memes, youtube videos, and other resources online I can show and discuss with my students. For instance, when we read Noches misteriosas en Granada, I use a Nike commercial featuring Rafa Nadal and Cristiano Ronaldo playing tennis to complement the chapter 3 “tennis match” scene. I movie talk the video, compare to the book, and if there are tennis or soccer players in class I can also ask them questions about how they play or who they play against and if they play with their feet or if they get tired. I also created a short Spanish reading based on what is seen in the commercial so students then get the literacy component after the discussion has ended.
I hope this has answered some questions for you and I hope you will try some new ways of personalizing with your students this week!
Kristy Placido is the editor of CIPeek.com. She is the author of several novels for Spanish learners and presents workshops for teachers on on teaching with comprehensible input. She has been using TPRS and comprehensible input approaches in her own classroom for 18 years. Check out her blog at kplacido.com and follow her on twitter and facebook!