Mindset for Acquisition: Changes in instruction require changes in thinking

If you have decided to teach for proficiency with an emphasis on comprehension, you are probably asking the question, “Where do I start?”

When you ask this question to colleagues, they will probably suggest some resources for you. “Get SOMOS!“, they might say, or “Start with Special Person interviews!”. You’ll probably hear, “The MovieTalk database is super helpful!”, or “I used Anne Matava’s scripts when I first got started!”

All of these suggestions will help you to know WHAT to do in the coming year, and maybe even HOW to do it. However, there is something outside the scope of these resources that can affect your success or failure as you work with those–or any–instructional resources.

When most people want to accomplish something, they think that they need to get the right things in order to be able to do certain things so that they can accomplish the goal. This approach is the HAVE – DO – BE approach: have the things, do the activities, be what/how you want to be.

This works sometimes, but not always.

For example, what if you can’t get the things? What if you can’t buy the curriculum, attend the training, purchase the subscription?

What if you get the things and try to use them, but something isn’t clicking? What if you are teaching the curriculum but you’re not accomplishing the goal you set out to accomplish, the goal that you’re supposed to be able to accomplish with the curriculum? What if you purchased the subscription, but the resources aren’t what you were expecting, and now you’re not sure what to do with them?

In other words, the HAVE – DO – BE cycle will likely leave you wanting.

But what happens if we flip it around?

BE – DO – HAVE

Keller Williams’ BOLD course and its BOLD Laws have helped me to reframe my thinking in many areas of my life, including language teaching.

One of the BOLD Laws is BE – DO – HAVE, and it is directly related to language teaching:

If you want to accomplish something, you must first BECOME the person that DOES the activities that HAS the results.

Our goals as language teachers likely include enjoying our job, connecting with our students, and helping our students make forward progress on the path to proficiency and toward becoming positive contributors to the world.

In order to HAVE these results, there are certain things that we must DO: we must connect with our students in class, we must use the target language in class in such a way that our students understand, we must expand their worldview and challenge their thinking.

If we want to DO those things effectively, we must BE in the right frame of mind. You see, realizing our vision for our classes and our students begins with our MINDSET.

5 Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

We change our thinking, we take action, we get results.

Last week, Elicia Cárdenas and I held the first meeting of the #summerSOMOSfunclub in the SOMOS Curriculum Collaboration group, and we talked about MINDSET. To ensure the greatest likelihood of success with the SOMOS Curriculum –or any Comprehension Based approach or resources– the change in instruction must begin in the mind of the teacher. We need to understand and believe how language is acquired and what that means for classroom instruction. When we have understanding and buy in to that understanding, we have a trustworthy lens through which we can examine resources that we are considering for classroom use.

Watch the #MINDSET #summerSOMOSfunclub on YouTube!

Here are 5 big picture Mindset Shifts that Elicia and I outline in the video!

Language classes must be about CONNECTION, not about covering curriculum. 5 Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

CONNECTION NOT CURRICULUM

Whether or not you are entering the coming year with lesson plans and a curriculum, your class must not be about the curriculum. Your class must be about connection: connecting with your students, connecting students with each other, connecting students with their community, their world, and their passions.

The goal of our classes must be to CONNECT, not to cover curriculum.

What does this mean for teachers that are using a curriculum?

A curriculum is valuable because it is a springboard for connection. It gives you things and ideas for which you can create connections. A well designed curriculum can also allow you to focus your attention on connection because you don’t need to focus on creating a plan. The SOMOS Curriculum includes daily lesson plans– step by step instructions that teachers can follow if they so choose. However, the connections are paramount.

For example, the SOMOS plans include many PERSONALIZED and CUSTOMIZED questions for each unit: questions to start conversations that create connections. Typically, the lesson plans as written might allow for 15 minutes of discussion. However, if your students are really engaged in the conversation–if you are connecting with them and they are connecting with each other–then your conversation might fill an entire class period! The end result is that it might take you 3 weeks to use all of the materials included in a unit that has plans for 7 days; but that’s a good thing. Create connections, don’t cover curriculum.

Comprehensible input is not enough: find out whether your students actually understand what you thought they would understand!  5 Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

COMPREHENDED NOT COMPREHENSIBLE

Terry Waltz led me to this important mindset shift: in class, our students don’t need comprehensible input; they need comprehended input. Comprehensible input is input that is reasonably able to be understood: in class, providing your students with comprehensible input is providing them with texts (written and oral) that you think that they can understand. Comprehended input is input that a learner actually understands. In class, this means making sure that they actually understand what you think they will understand.

Shifting our focus from comprehensible to comprehended input is critical because the students in any given class have a range of proficiency levels, a range of literacy levels and skills, and unique vocabularies and background knowledge. What is comprehensible to one student will be utterly incomprehensible to the student sitting right next to them.

This matters because we cannot connect with things that we don’t understand. If I tell you a story and “It’s all Greek to you!” (incomprehensible), we can’t talk about the story. You can’t connect with the characters or the themes; you can’t build background knowledge about the world, or share a laugh with me, the storyteller. Comprehension is a precursor to connection.

Plan your instruction for comprehensible input: find resources to use that are written for language learners, and study and practice how to be more comprehensible to your students. But in the moment of teaching, comprehensible is not enough: you must go the extra mile to take that comprehensible input and ensure that it is understood. Visit this post to learn how to make input comprehended.

Language teachers can identify core vocabulary words for a given lesson, but even 100s of repeated exposures can not guarantee acquisition - Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

CORE VOCABULARY NOT TARGET STRUCTURES

When I first walked away from my textbook, I switched to TPRS (learn more about TPRS here). At the time, TPRS was the only Comprehension Based method that existed. (Since then, many other methods and strategies have been identified, named, and taught.) I was taught to choose three “Target Structures” and then use them to co-create a story with my students. Over the years, however, it has become clear that using the term Target Structures is problematic.

The acquisition of the vocabulary words for each unit is not the target; the connection –which is only possible when input is comprehended– is the target.

Repeated, concentrated exposure to a given word or structure will support a learner’s comprehension of the message; however, it will not guarantee that they will acquire that word or structure. When I am in a French lesson, for example, and the teacher uses the word “regarde” many times during the lesson, I understand it very well in the moment. I am able to interpret the message with ease because the teacher has supported my comprehension through repetition. However, I might not remember the word regarde when I come back to French class seven days later. Acquisition is something that happens in each mind, independent of external factors. Acquisition is ordered and sequenced; and instruction –even Comprehension Based instruction– cannot supersede the order.

For this reason, I have begun to describe the frequently used words in each of my curriculum units as CORE VOCABULARY instead of Target Structures. As you are planning your instruction for the coming year, you can feel confident that identifying Core Vocabulary that you can focus on in each of your lessons will help your students to understand the message (a story, a conversation, a text, etc.), even though it does not mean that those words will be acquired.

If you have identified Core Vocabulary for a lesson, and even if you have made your students aware of which words are the Core Vocabulary words, you cannot expect that students will have acquired them at the end of a lesson, a week, a unit. Full acquisition will happen when it happens, and so do not get down on yourself if your students don’t know what you thought they would know by the time that you thought they would know it. It will happen– they just need more input.

In language classes, the communication is more important than the prescribed words or constructions that are used to connect. 5 Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

COMMUNICATION NOT LANGUAGE TARGETS

Regardless of whether you have pre-selected Core Vocabulary or are strategically using specific grammar constructions while creating connections, the focus of a language class must be on COMMUNICATION, not on language targets. As Dr. Krashen has said, the best input is so compelling that the acquirer may even forget that it is encoded in a foreign language! If you have chosen Core Vocabulary or even constructions to target beforehand, go ahead and provide students with repeated exposures to those words and constructions: but not at the expense of interrupting communication. It is okay –it’s wonderful!– if your conversation starts with a Core Vocabulary word and ends up on a tangent, and you never repeat the Core Vocabulary word. If you are able to keep the communication comprehended, then follow the interest.

Our brains are absolutely amazing, and they are designed to acquire language. When your brain receives comprehensible input, it processes that input and adds to the growing mental representation of language that is already in your head. I like to think of my mental representation of language as “my version” of a given language. For English, my mental representation of language pretty well matches the language that is used by Native speakers of English, like me. For Spanish, my mental representation matches the language used my Native speakers of Spanish in many areas, but it’s pretty…um…individualized when it comes to specialized and theoretical topics. For French, my mental representation of language looks like a Caveman drawing compared to the language used by Native speakers of French… but it’s growing!

No matter what language you are using in class (no matter what topics you are discussing, what words or constructions you are using, etc.); if the language is comprehensible, your students’ brain can use it. Keep the focus on communication, and let your brain do what it is designed to do!

Dear teacher; what expectations do you have for yourself, your students, your classroom? Are you OPEN to changing them? - 5 Mindset shifts that will prepare language teachers for Comprehension Based™ Instruction - Shared by The Comprehensible Classroom

MANAGE EXPECTATIONS, NOT BEHAVIORS

Classroom management: the downfall of many a Master teacher. It doesn’t matter how much of an expert you are in your subject area or even in the teaching of your subject area; the interaction and relationships in a classroom can undo all of it.

As you consider how you will finally, once-and-for-all, get a leg-up on classroom management in the coming year, consider this: manage EXPECTATIONS, not behaviors.

Consider your own expectations about what appropriate behavior in the classroom looks like. How do you think a classroom should run? What does movement look like? Seating? Instructional flow? What expectations do you have for individual student behavior: what should they do or should they not do during the kinds of activities that you have planned for the coming year? What about preparation? Participation? How quickly do you think students should learn words, phrases, tenses? Consider your expectations for yourself: what should a teacher look like, act like, talk like?

Now, consider this: are you open to behaviors, qualities, and progressions that are outside of your expectations?

Many stereotypical Classroom Management problems can be quelled in a snap with a simple shift in expectations– and for those that can’t, we’ve got a killer #summerSOMOSfunclub session planned to consider how to process them in August!

KEEP GROWING

Once your mindset has begun to shift, it is so helpful and rewarding to find teachers that are experiencing the same shifts. Please join us in the SOMOS Curriculum Collaboration group, or find a regional PLC in your area! Our passion is supporting you in becoming an ever more confident and capable language teacher!

Join us for this week’s #summerSOMOSfunclub meeting on ASSESSMENT – July 2 at 1:00pm EDT in the SOMOS Curriculum Collaboration group!

7 thoughts on “Mindset for Acquisition: Changes in instruction require changes in thinking

  1. Lana says:

    Thank you so much for this recap of the shift of mindset. At the beginning of last year about a week before students arrived, I was made aware of CI and, at that point, threw out the textbook! Fast forward to today and I’ve taught one full year with CI in mind and still feel like I have a lot to learn. Could you speak to how technology can promote the connection that is so important in the classroom? Have you found any technology applications to work well with a Comprehension Based method of teaching?

    • Martina Bex says:

      In my experience, technology is most useful in connecting students with information (through reading & listening) and authentic resources (songs, videos, etc.). I always recommend perusing Cynthia Hitz’ blog for applications that are compatible with Comprehension Based (TM) methods of teaching (see her blog link in the sidebar). There are also several great web applications that can connect students with stories and non fiction content; for Spanish learners, of course there is Señor Wooly, and now we have added Garbanzo to the mix (www.garbanzo.io).

  2. Bailey says:

    I teach Intro. Spanish, Spanish I, and Spanish IV. I am very eager to try the CI approach especially in my Intro. and Spanish I classes. We use the Avancemos textbook. I am trying to decide what to do: The Spanish I students will go to another teacher for II and III who wants to stick to the Avancemos textbook and Scope and Sequence. If I were to use the Somos Curriculum, would these students be prepared for Spanish II and III?

    Thank you
    Bailey Hooten

  3. Bailey says:

    Hola Martina,

    I am not sure if my last post went through successfully. I teach Intro. Spanish, Spanish I, and Spanish IV. I am currently using the Avancemos textbook. I am eager to try CI with the Somos curriculum in my classroom. My students will move to Spanish II next year with a teacher who uses the textbook. Will my students be prepared for her Spanish II class having used the Somos I curriculum?

    Gracias,
    Bailey

    • Martina Bex says:

      Yes, definitely! Connect with teachers in the SOMOS Facebook group that use Avancemos too for specific support!

  4. Lauren Tauchman says:

    Hello all!

    (I have to post on a blog for grad school, so excuse my formalities 🙂 )

    “The teacher’s values, beliefs and attitude to learning could be as important in the learning process as the material being taught” (Blakemore & Firth, 2005). I believe this quote is one way to capture Martina’s beautiful post about mindset. As teachers, we have so much power to create a positive experience in learning a language. It starts with our mindset about our teaching and what students can achieve! To me, that is comforting because there is so much about CI that I am not yet good at, but I know that the one thing I can control is my mindset.

    Throughout my grad school classes, I have learned the many reasons that teaching with CI is so brain-friendly and powerful. “Connection not curriculum” works because it engages emotion. When emotion is stimulated, the deepest, most primal part of our brains, the amygdala, is activated. When the emotion is a positive one, the memory is stored longer (Laureate Education, 2009).

    Connection also works because our brains are wired to be social. In the book, Social, the author describes that social connections may be just as important to our survival as food and shelter (Leiberman, 2013). That is why building community and having discussions as a class is so compelling.

    Thank you for this heartening post, Martina. Thank you for bringing us back to the core of what we do as CI teachers. There are so many reasons why it works!

    References

    Blakemore, S. J., & Frith, U. (2005). The learning brain: Lessons for education. Blackwell publishing.

    Laureate Education (Producer). (2009). Brain research and learning [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author

    Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why our brains are wired to connect. OUP Oxford.

    Willis, J. (2007). The neuroscience of joyful education. Educational Leadership, 64(9).

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