I don’t understand.
THIS phrase is the first, and most powerful, and practical, place to start taking care of problems!!! Teachers committed to Comprehension-based Instruction often use a “signal” for students to use when the teacher has delivered a message in the Target Language that is confusing or incomprehensible. This is really TAKING CARE OF PROBLEMS!!!
It’s preventing behavioral problems that stem from not being able to follow what is happening in class. It also sidesteps behaviors that arise when a student feels incompetent, unimportant, or incapable in any way. Allowing, actually encouraging, students to communicate in a safe way that the language or the message is confusing creates a safe space that accepts students where they are….instead of pointing out where they “should be.”
It’s giving students power over their own environment and their own input and it is very important. Even if they don’t use it as often as we might like, the fact that we encourage it, accept it and respond to it is incredibly important!
What does having a signal for confusion do? It also allows students, who sit all day long, to communicate that they may have, quite naturally, lost focus for a few moments. It allows us to address that and bring them back into the action.
Wondering who decides the signal and what signal to use? Sometimes the teacher decides what it will be and sometimes the students decide. These signals might be:
A hand over the head.
The “time-out” sign
One fist to the palm of the other hand
Hands crossed over the chest
Stomping on the floor with both feet until the teacher notices.
All of these can be effective, especially if we encourage everyone to use the signal if they see another student expressing concern about comprehension. It’s easy, as the teacher, to miss the sign!
When observing teachers I’ve seen the teacher use the signal when s/he is confused…I love that!!
Some teachers also create a sign for “Slow Down” or “Please Repeat”. After students are comfortable with those, it is easy to make the transition to using the phrases in the TL as well!
Another problem-solver is providing students with a way to ask what something means in the target language or how to say it in the target language. One of the first things that I note when I teach a level 2 class is if the students are “trained” to say “What does _____mean in English?”…and they ask me in Spanish!! Or ….”How do you say _____ in Spanish?” and ask me in Spanish!
Those are not just handy phrases. They are problem-solvers. They give students permission to not understand, and to ask for clarification. When our students have those phrases available to them, they know that we don’t expect them to know everything and that we encourage them to ask!
I know that not all students are comfortable communicating that the language is not comprehensible. That really is okay. I don’t expect they will, but I will invite them to, and often. I will also be thankful and express my gratitude every time they do. It helps us all. It takes frequent reminders; it really does. I have had to actually put it on the board, in a PowerPoint or my lesson plans or I forget to remind them. We’ve been trained NOT to communicate confusion. This will be new. But it is incredibly valuable.
This may sound incredibly simple. But it is incredibly powerful.
What do you and your students use to communicate that the language or the message is confusing?