CI for EQUITY by Brett

Today I had a very bad 4th block. Fortunately, because of CI, that’s rare. Here’s why:

I set up an individual exam review. They had to review our class document with all the “write and discusses” of special interviews and card talks and Invisibles stories, first by translating a few texts, then writing some review questions for a partner to answer. Long story short, it was independent studying.

It did not work for a number of students in class. Mainly a group of boys. There’s five of them. All very social. Athletic-oriented. Loud. Funny. Attention-seeking. Fun. Competitive. Disruptive. Welcoming. Strong. I love having them in class, but this activity didn’t work for them.

They didn’t have the intrinsic academic motivation to do the task at hand. For whatever reason. Maybe they were tired. Or tired of studying. Or wouldn’t have done it even on their best days. Regardless, it was exhausting redirecting them. Silencing them. Threatening them with penalties, a bad grade, not being able to leave to use the bathroom or get water. Whatever I could do to try and get them focused.

Upon reflection after class, I remembered this is what my teaching practice used to be like. Teach a vocab and grammar scenario, model it, individual practice, group conversation to review. The intrinsically motivated kids did their individual work, and I tried as best as I could to motivate all the rest and wore myself ragged with those soul-sucking conversations:

“Please stop talking and get a paper out.” “I need to see your eyes on the page and your pencil moving.” “Are you finished..I see you’ve only done half of the questions.” “Please rewrite that in a complete sentence.” “Please lift your head off the desk and finish.” “I’m going to grade this.”

These students who lack intrinsic academic motivation are the ones whose families don’t support them academically. Or emotionally. Or even with basic needs. The kids who are tired from taking care of siblings. Or working a job after school. Or the kids coming from poverty. Or maybe they just hang out with other kids like that and gravitate toward that behavior.

We have a decision to make as teachers. We can place the blame on these students for not having or developing the skills necessary in school, or not caring, or not being disciplined enough, or not respecting authority. Not respecting me. We can say it’s their fault if they don’t do the work. It’s their fault if they just sleep rather than pay attention. Or listen to music all class. We can point to the others in the room who are doing just fine in the same scenario as our justification.

We can continue to discriminate against minority and poor students. We can continue to perpetuate the legacy of discrimination in our country. We can continue to tear away at the fabric of our communities.

Or we can choose to be leaders in our classrooms. We can view ourselves as workers of social justice. As agents of equality in education and the future of our society. We can push ourselves to meet the needs of the intrinsically motivated at the same time as the kids who lack it. We can view our classrooms as builders of success rather than trials that winnow the chaff from the wheat.

Comprehensible input allows us to be these bastions of inclusion and motivation. I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon this community. As Erin, my collaborator on this site, frequently says, CI instruction allows us to own the room. There are no individual learning scenarios that perpetuate differences between students.  There’s no wack-a-mole of redirecting wayward conversations because there’s only ever one conversation. The classes’ conversation. The one in which I put voice to their ideas. The one that unifies us as one community. That is devoted to celebrating our uniqueness, not condemning our differences. The conversation that ignites all of our imaginations in the pursuit of communal, collaborative, creative communication.

It is a magical thing.

The best part. Those five boys who were so distracting and challenging in a traditional class setup today are stars in my daily CI practice. They all hold multiple classroom jobs and take pride in executing them–attendance taker, “hoy” repeater, rejoinder scorekeeper, new rejoinder alerter, primary actor for class, date pronouncer in Spanish, bellringer translator to English, etc. They are the students who volunteered first for special person interviews. They volunteer for everything. The energy that was so hard to control and funnel on an individual assignment level is a major driving force for positivity on a communal level when I am leading the class through conversation in Spanish. When one or two of them are absent, the class feels empty. We miss them. We rely on them.

I am actually really grateful that I taught so poorly today. It is a good reminder of what instruction without CI used to be like for me with challenging classes. It fills me with joy and hope that I can be such a positive influence in so many young men and women’s lives. That they can learn a new language, be successful in an academic setting, and start to identify with positive academic behavior and achievement.

Equality in achievement is really the soul of CI. It allows us to teach and our students to learn with our souls, as Ben Slavic says, not just our brains. It allows the kids who just don’t care about class most of the time still succeed at an equal rate as the highly driven students–and without slowing the high fliers down, because using the target language for 90% of class is naturally differentiating. And it’s so much more enjoyable to teach. Gone is the wack-a-mole behavior management frustration. Gone is the need to add fun and game to the language, because now the language is motivational enough! Literally everybody wins.

I hope you feel the positivity it too!



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