Project-Based Learning and CI by Brett

My county just got a new world language coordinator. She is ALL ABOUT CI and all about Project Based Learning, and sees CI as a way to facilitate Project Based Learning.

Last week we had an initial training on PBL that got me thinking about how CI and PBL could be married. Below is an essay I wrote in response to the Project Based Learning guru for our county explaining my thoughts:

I consider my primary role in class to give voice to the students thoughts, interests, uniqueness, and creativity. It’s their conversation. It’s their community.
I have two main objectives for this class in building a true, Hispanic community: IDENTITY and CREATIVITY.
The first overarching goal is to explore, reaffirm, and celebrate everyone’s IDENTITY and uniqueness within that community. The trick is to no longer consider it a class, but a sort of support group where the goal is to celebrate our uniqueness, teach students how to build positive relationships, and provide a safe haven through which students can discover themselves. In a way, the fact that this community exists in Spanish resets all of the social factors that by high school have pulled kids apart. Shy or serious or insecure kids in English can be stars of the class because nobody is very good at interacting in Spanish yet. It levels the community’s social playing field.
To that end, I facilitate a lot of activities that you haven’t seen yet but actually represent about 50% of my practice. These activities include:
  • “Personal Interviews,” “Card Talk” and “Question of the Day”: All these are just variations in which we talk about our interests by cycle through topics such as hobbies, entertainment, music, our families, pets, future ambitions, college, cars, whatever. In a very “Voice and Choice” manner, I invite the students to come up with what topics are interesting to them. It doesn’t matter what the topic is actually. Fifty words alone represent 60% or speech–words like is, was, has, likes, I, it, she, needs, wants, etc). And those high frequency structures get naturally recycled and practiced because of their very nature of being high frequency. I don’t even have to track it or steer conversations toward any artificial (to them) teaching agenda. It’s actually way better not to, because then the goal of these identity conversations really is community building, not language learning, which is way more interesting to the students. If the teacher is constantly implying or turning attention to the fact that language learning is the real goal, students aren’t as motivated. Language learning becomes the necessary means to a greater, more important end product of community-building (authentic need to know), and the class itself is the public audience.
  • “Calendar Talk,” which uses a monthly calendar to scaffold a conversation about school events, birthdays, activities after school, events in their families, clubs, sports, games, etc. They can make announcements about upcoming events. They can announce personal achievements and good news. Etc… It’s their conversation. The calendar is just the graphic organizer.
The second overarching goal of the community is to CREATE! We create by establishing what is essentially a collaborative creative writing workshop where we invent characters and adventures for them. I’d say we spend about 50% of class time throughout the year doing the creative writing workshop. Collaborating in a creative endeavor is just so engaging to them, which is necessary when all the students do in class is listen. It is Comprehensible Input gold! And it doesn’t really get old to them because each story is new and limitless. The complexity of the language and story naturally differentiates at different in Sp. 2 and 3, etc.
There are both short-term and long-term products associated with the creative writing workshop.
The short-term products are:
  • Class Galleries: We use the imagery on the walls to create class galleries with the corresponding story. Ideally, the gallery would be displayed in the hallway from Day  1 of the year (I hope to get this up and running ASAP).
  • Class compilations: I print out each classes’ stories with the images embedded and create class collections that are used for free choice reading. Reading is the fastest and most efficient way to improve literacy, but there are so few reading sources that are truly comprehensible to beginners and still really interesting. So we make them ourselves! The students like comparing their story style to the other classes and seeing what stories the other classes come up with.
  • Class videos: After we read and review each story, we call the actors up again and videotape the story while I narrate from the back of the room in Spanish. It’s awesome! I show the video to other classes to spark interest in reading the stories during free choice reading. And at the end of the year, the goal is to have a class video to have as a product from our community.
The long-term products are:
  • Professionally printed books: I want to professionally print a compilation of each year’s class stories and sell them to other teachers to use like the books I have up on my wall. Here is an example of something close that’s already out on the market:

    My students love that book; it’s by far the most popular novel for free choice reading time. Though to be frank, the stories we make up are way more interesting to my classes than any other books because they are ours. I’d go so far as to say they’d also be popular in the national marketplace for beginner language novels. 

    The county owns the copyright, since we made the stories during class time. I know selling them presents bureaucratic challenges. However, it’s very much worth it to invest time and energy into solving those challenges. I’ve got kids begging to buy the book from last year. And other Comprehensible Input teachers are desperate for more short stories. That book I linked to above is literally one of three or four short story compilations that exists for purchase.

    Chesterfield could sell them at cost just to be able to print them professionally and make them available on the national landscape. Or we could use the revenue to fund more free choice book purchases for other teachers to use in class. Many other teachers are also interested in building a wonderful free reading library like I have built in my classroom using parent donations. We could send more teachers to Comprehensible Input conferences during the summer. We could even use the revenue to pay for Comprehensible Input experts to present right here in Chesterfield.

Here’s my initial thoughts as to how my CI instruction satisfies the PBL framework:
Driving Question:
  • For community building activities: What makes you, YOU? And who do you want to become?

  • For writing workshop: Perhaps… How can you be an author? How can you write fiction? How can you express yourself? How can you voice your creativity through literature?

    (last year, I had an introverted, flat aspect student create a story about an alien who couldn’t smile. All the other aliens on Pluto could smile, so he felt alone and sad. One day, he saw on tv that Martians couldn’t smile just like him. They express themselves through their actions and personality. So, he moved to Mars where he knew he could belong and be appreciated for what truly matters.)

Voice and Choice: This one is obvious. I consider it my primary role to voice what the students want to say. The entire premise of class is Voice and Choice.
In-Depth Inquiry: I didn’t know how to answer this question, but the county PBL guru wrote this:
You live in this as you used the target language and pulled out of them a common understanding throughout the lesson.”
In the world language classroom, the teacher has to “use the target language and pull out a common understanding” because the students don’t have the language proficiency yet. Even at upper level classes, the point is to give students more language exposure. This inverts the usual PBL framework that relies on student production within a self-driven inquiry. The teacher is the only one with the language skills and expertise to make new language comprehensible. So the inquiry has to be student-driven but facilitated by the teacher.

Authentic Need-to-know:

For community building: The whole conversation exists in Spanish. If I’m doing my job in facilitating an authentic feeling of community where students truly care about each other, there’s always an authentic need-to-know.

For writing workshop: The whole creative workshop is about expressing your creativity, and you felt it today. They want to express their ideas and feel that sense of self-affirmation that comes with a good idea. They want to impress their classmates. They want to be funny and clever. And they want their class stories to be better than the other classes’ stories. Students have to know what’s going on in order to express themselves.

Revision and Reflection: During community-building or story creation the whole class participates in creating the story and the teacher allows edits to be made along the way to meet the requirements of the creative writing process. During the reading stage, students watch as the teacher revises the oral conversation by summarizing the main points in text. Eventually, students are tasked with writing freely about themselves, the community at large, and their own stories independently via bimonthly or monthly freewrites. Through these freewrites, students can reflect on the classroom language exposure and create unique communication that emanates from their own mental representation of the language (their proficiency).
Public Audience:
For community building, I think the class at large is the public audience. The goal is to create a save space where students can discover a greater appreciation for their unique identity and the identity of their peers. If I do this well, the class itself is the public audience.
For creative writing workshop: There are various public audiences. The class itself is one for reasons I’ve discussed above and for the fact that the stories will become free choice reading material for the rest of the year. The other classes, both this year and future years, are a public audience for the same reason of reading the stories. Other Spanish classes in the building are too. If we print them professionally, classes around the country and world will be authentic audiences.
For creative writing workshop, it’d be great to organize periodic field trips in which high schoolers visit their feeder middle and elementary schools to read them their class’s stories. And we could organize events with the public libraries in Chesterfield and/or day care providers, etc…
Significant Content: My PBL guru wrote: “Duh….you were focused on your content.” I think what he meant was that I spoke in the target language for 95% of class as recorded by my world language coordinator


21st Century Skills:

      • Communication & Collaboration: Doing throughout as you use the whole class to build the story and find the language to use to express it.
      • Creativity: It was their story, not your story.
      • Critical Thinking: You allowed the students to struggle through and get messy and connect the two languages to find comprehension and direction with your gestures, questions, and wait time. This was also evident in the share the story in 10 sentences in pairs review activity.
      • Citizenship: This was a very active class with movement, discussion, and some students needing to be in close quarters with others in telling the story. No one acted inappropriately, they were respectful, and helped one another.


In conclusion, I was at first concerned that my CI practice wouldn’t satisfy the county’s PBL expectations for the coming years. But the county PBL guru’s first reaction after his class observation was to hug me. So, I think CI does a pretty awesome job at embodying the core values of PBL! Yay!

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